We have run out of ways to start these previews with lighthearted, only semi-apocalyptic jokes about how the movies listed below are coming out, unless they aren’t, hahaha, unless they’re delayed, or delayed again, or sold off to be released on a streaming service at a later date. We give up. It is 2021, and we have been living through a pandemic for 18 months. We may or may not be on the precipice of a Delta variant–fueled return to a lockdown only parts of the country will actually observe anyway. But for now, all portents of doom and feelings of deep uncertainty aside, theaters are back. And while your patronage of them should always be informed by your personal comfort level as well as local mandates regarding safety procedures, they are currently scheduled to play movies, both big and small, through the end of the year.
This list is a list of theatrical highlights, both on streaming and in theaters, from September to December 2021. Some of these movies will sound familiar, given they’ve been coming attractions for months or years now. And some of those movies* we didn’t bother to blurb, not because they’re unimportant, but because we’ve blurbed them too many times already (see our blissfully oblivious preview from the start of 2020, its shell-shocked companion piece from last fall, and its successor from the start of this year).
The Card Counter (in theaters 9/10)
Oscar Isaac is an Abu Ghraib interrogator turned professional card player, Tiffany Haddish is the mysterious woman who stakes him, and Willem Dafoe looks nefarious in Paul Schrader’s lean, mean follow-up to First Reformed.
Blue Bayou (in theaters 9/17)
Justin Chon’s fourth feature as a director is by far his highest profile, a tear-drenched melodrama about a Korean American adoptee who suddenly finds himself in danger of being deported from the U.S. Chon also stars alongside Alicia Vikander.
Cry Macho (in theaters and on HBO Max 9/17)
Movies directed by Clint Eastwood tend to be better when he stars in them, which is reason enough to have some hope for this adaptation of the 1975 N. Richard Nash novel about a washed-up rodeo star returning a troubled young man from Mexico to Texas.
Titane (in theaters 10/1)
Julia Ducournau made a visceral splash at Cannes in 2016 with her debut feature, Raw, a cannibalistic coming-of-age film. Her gender-bending, body-horror-esque follow-up, Titane, won the Palme d’Or this year. The protagonist is a homicidal dancer who prefers the company of cars and goes on the run after a violent encounter, passing herself off as a missing boy while also, possibly, pregnant with something automotive in origin.
Bergman Island (in theaters and on demand 10/15)
The latest film from Mia Hansen-Løve takes place on Ingmar Bergman’s beloved island Fårö. Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth star as a filmmaking couple who arrive for a trip that falls awkwardly between work and play and that seems to highlight all the cracks forming in their relationship.
Halloween Kills (in theaters 10/15)
A follow-up from the same creative team that made 2018’s Halloween sequel, a return to form for this horror series.
The Last Duel (in theaters 10/15)
Ridley Scott directs this film, already memed to death, about the last sanctioned duel in France; co-stars Ben Affleck and Matt Damon wrote the script with Nicole Holofcener. None of these people’s sensibilities screams “medieval France,” but maybe that will turn out to be a good thing.
The Velvet Underground (in theaters and on Apple TV+ 10/15)
Todd Haynes has made a kaleidoscopic anti-biopic about Bob Dylan (I’m Not There) and a fanfiction saga about David Bowie (Velvet Goldmine), so it fits that his first dip into the documentary world is about the Velvet Underground, including interviews with all of the surviving members.
Last Night in Soho (in theaters 10/29)
Edgar Wright let loose on the music and styles of swinging sixties London is already a delectable premise on its own. But this also appears to be a proper horror movie — something Wright, who loves to mix and match genres with tongue-in-cheek insouciance, has never done.
King Richard (in theaters and on HBO Max 11/19)
Will Smith plays Venus and Serena’s father and coach, Richard Williams, in this biopic directed by Joe Bell’s Reinaldo Marcus Green. Everything about the trailer, which shows Richard fending off misguided white social workers and condescending tennis-world figures while guiding his daughters to greatness, screams Oscar.
House of Gucci (in theaters 11/24)
Ridley Scott’s other fall movie is about the murder of fashion heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) as ordered by his ex-wife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), though it’s also clearly about excesses of power and wealth, behind-the-scenes machinations, and matching white ski suits.
Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Project (in theaters 11/26)
Over the past decade or so, Paul Thomas Anderson has become one of the most unpredictable voices in American cinema. So it’s hard to know what to expect from his next film, which is currently being referred to by the unofficial title Soggy Bottom. What we do know: It will star Bradley Cooper as a Jon Peters–style producer, Benny Safdie as a California politician, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, Cooper, as a young actor. We’re here for it.
The Power of the Dog (on Netflix 12/1)
It has been over a decade since Jane Campion made a feature film. She returns with this adaptation of a Thomas Savage novel set in Montana in the early-20th century.
Benedetta (in theaters and on demand 12/3)
At 83, director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t appear to have lost his edge, as evidenced by the splash this 17th-century lesbian-nun drama made with the critics at Cannes earlier this year.
Nightmare Alley (in theaters 12/3)
There’s no trace of the supernatural in Guillermo del Toro’s new movie, which nevertheless manages to sound like the most Guillermo del Toro project ever: a pulp thriller starring Bradley Cooper as an ambitious carny whose talent for manipulation leads him into a career of swindling.
The Hand of God (on Netflix 12/15)
Paolo Sorrentino is one of the great stylists of our time. His latest — reportedly a very personal film based on the director’s youth — promises to be a riff on offbeat tales of childhood and family à la Fellini’s Amarcord. The title was inspired by soccer player Diego Maradona, who made the “hand of God” goal that won the 1986 World Cup — and who would play a pivotal role in Sorrentino’s life.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (in theaters 12/17)
Shocking but true: Not all of us think the recent Jon Watts–directed Spidey flicks with Tom Holland have distinguished themselves. At least they’re reportedly bringing back Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, a role he played in the great Sam Raimi–directed Spider-Man 2. That’s encouraging, right?
The Matrix Resurrections (in theaters and on HBO Max 12/22)
Almost two decades after The Matrix Revolutions, Lana Wachowski makes a solo return to the franchise that broke brains, sold thousands of people on ill-advised leather trenches, and introduced the world to a trans allegory that was immediately and ironically repurposed by various reactionary men’s-rights areas of the internet. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Jada Pinkett Smith will also be coming back for this film.
Don’t Look Up (on Netflix 12/24)
Jennifer Lawrence ends her two-year hiatus from the big screen with Adam McKay’s latest, playing an astronomer alongside Leonardo DiCaprio as they try to warn everybody about a world-destroying comet. The black comedy also features Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, and Meryl Streep, among many other huge names.
C’mon C’mon (in theaters TBA)
Mike Mills’s follow-up to the lovely 20th Century Women stars Joaquin Phoenix as an artist who ends up taking care of his young nephew (Woody Norman) during a cross-country trip.
Memoria (in theaters TBA)
In this film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Cemetery of Splendor), a strange sound haunts Tilda Swinton, one that only she can hear. Trying to get to the bottom of it leads her to become increasingly unmoored from her previous existence.
Petite Maman (in theaters TBA)
In this film from Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), a young girl visits her mom’s rural childhood home and runs into another girl who looks and sounds just like her. Is the story symbolic or supernatural, or does it occupy that liminal emotional-spiritual space where Sciamma seems to thrive?
Red Rocket (in theaters TBA)
Sean Baker (The Florida Project, Tangerine) builds his empathetic films around his actors, who are sometimes professionals and sometimes people from outside the industry whose lives inform the characters they play. His latest leading man is both: former MTV VJ, onetime adult performer, and occasional rapper Simon Rex, playing a washed-up adult-film star who returns to his Gulf Coast hometown and directs his Trump-like gift of gab at a young doughnut-shop employee he seems intent on recruiting.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (in theaters and on Apple TV+ TBA)
Is this the end of the brothers Coen? Carter Burwell, the filmmakers’ longtime composer, let slip on a recent podcast that Ethan Coen “just didn’t want to make movies anymore,” which is why Joel is taking his first solo credit as the writer-director of this take on the Shakespeare play. Joel’s wife, Frances McDormand, is Lady Macbeth to Denzel Washington’s ill-fated Scottish lord.
*Among the titles we’ve blurbed a million times but are still excited to see, if they come out:
The Many Saints of Newark (in theaters and on HBO Max 10/1)
No Time to Die (in theaters 10/8)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (in theaters 10/15)
Dune (in theaters and on HBO Max 10/22)
The French Dispatch (in theaters 10/22)
Antlers (in theaters 10/29)
Eternals (in theaters 11/5)
West Side Story (in theaters 12/10)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (in theaters)
Cinderella (on Amazon Prime Video)
The Gateway (in theaters and on demand)
Mogul Mowgli (in theaters and on demand)
Wild Indian (in theaters and on demand)
Worth (on Netflix)
Yakuza Princess (in theaters and on demand)
Zone 414 (in theaters and on demand)
Blood Brothers: Malcolm X & Muhammad Ali (on Netflix)
Malignant (in theaters and on HBO Max)
Queenpins (in theaters)
The Alpinist (in theaters)
The Capote Tapes (in theaters)
Kate (on Netflix)
Language Lessons (in theaters)
Nightbooks (on Netflix)
Schumacher (on Netflix)
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (on Amazon Prime Video)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (in theaters)
Best Sellers (in theaters and on demand)
Copshop (in theaters)
The Duke (in theaters)
Lady of the Manor (in theaters and on demand)
Little Girl (in theaters)
The Nowhere Inn (in theaters and on demand)
Prisoners of the Ghostland (in theaters and on demand)
Intrusion (on Netflix)
Dear Evan Hansen (in theaters)
Birds of Paradise (on Amazon Prime Video)
The Guilty (in theaters)
I’m Your Man (in theaters)
The Starling (on Netflix)
Sounds Like Love (on Netflix)
No One Gets Out Alive (on Netflix)
The Addams Family 2 (in theaters and on demand)
Coming Home in the Dark (in theaters)
The Guilty (on Netflix)
Mayday (in theaters and on demand)
Old Henry (in theaters)
Diana: The Musical (on Netflix)
There’s Someone Inside Your House (on Netflix)
Knocking (in theaters)
Mass (in theaters)
Survive the Game (in theaters and on demand)
Hard Luck Love Song (in theaters)
Luzzu (in theaters)
Needle in a Timestack (in theaters and on demand)
Son of Monarchs (in theaters)
The Velvet Underground (in theaters and on Apple TV+)
Found (on Netflix)
Night Teeth (on Netflix)
Ron’s Gone Wrong (in theaters)
Army of Thieves (on Netflix)
Snakehead (in theaters and on demand)
The Spine of Night (in theaters and on demand)
The Harder They Fall (on Netflix)
The Beta Test (in theaters and on demand)
Finch (on Apple TV+)
Julia (in theaters)
A Cop Movie (on Netflix)
Love Hard (on Netflix)
Passing (on Netflix)
Belfast (in theaters)
Home Sweet Home Alone (on Disney+)
Red Notice (on Netflix)
The Feast (in theaters and on demand)
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (in theaters and on demand)
Mothering Sunday (in theaters)
tick, tick…Boom! (on Netflix)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife (in theaters)
Encanto (in theaters)
National Champions (in theaters)
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (in theaters)
Bruised (on Netflix)
Robin Robin (on Netflix)
The Beatles: Get Back (on Disney+)
14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible (on Netflix)
Wolf (in theaters)
Flee (in theaters)
Try Harder! (in theaters)
Shaun the Sheep: The Flight Before Christmas (on Netflix)
Violence of Action (in theaters)
France (in theaters)
The Unforgivable (on Netflix)
The Lost Daughter (in theaters)
The Novice (Theaters + VOD)
Fortress (in theaters and on demand)
A Journal for Jordan (in theaters)
The King’s Man (in theaters)
Sing 2 (in theaters)
Parallel Mothers (in theaters)
American Underdog (in theaters)
Starbright (in theaters)
Jockey (in theaters)
Cyrano (in theaters)
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (in theaters)
The Lost Daughter (on Netflix)
Fever Dream (in theaters and on Netflix in October)
Hypnotic (on Netflix in October)
Zeros and Ones (in theaters and on demand in November)
7 Prisoners (on Netflix in November)
A Castle for Christmas (on Netflix in November)
A Boy Called Christmas (on Netflix in November)
The Princess Switch 3 (on Netflix in November)
Single All the Way (on Netflix in December)
Mixtape (on Netflix in December)
Back to the Outback (on Netflix in December)
Since this article was published, the following movies have been delayed:
Jackass Forever (in theaters, moved from 10/22/2021 to 2/4/2022)
Top Gun: Maverick (in theaters, moved from 11/19/2021 to 5/27/2022)