summer 2021

96 Movies You May or May Not Want to See This Summer

Because cinema is back, baby!

From top left, clockwise: Space Jam, The Suicide Squad, Fast & Furious 9, Zola, and In the Heights Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros, Universal Pictures and A24
From top left, clockwise: Space Jam, The Suicide Squad, Fast & Furious 9, Zola, and In the Heights Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros, Universal Pictures and A24
From top left, clockwise: Space Jam, The Suicide Squad, Fast & Furious 9, Zola, and In the Heights Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photos by Warner Bros, Universal Pictures and A24

Sometime in the near future, you are possibly going to do something that might have been unthinkable a few months ago: You are going to go see a movie. Maybe it’ll be a long-awaited reunion with friends. Maybe it’ll be a way to pass a lonely Wednesday evening. Maybe it’ll just be a chance to spend two hours in a building with air-conditioning. Either way, you will sit in a dark room alongside dozens of strangers, gazing up at stars that are literally larger than life.

And when you do, the movies will be right there to greet you.

We still don’t know whether this summer will be a normal movie summer, but we can all take solace in the fact that it will be, at least, a recognizable one. Hollywood’s 14-month merry-go-round of release dates has finally slowed, and only a few short weeks from now, the industry will resume something akin to regular programming, with a different big, fun studio movie hitting screens every Friday. There will be car chases. There will be superheroes. There will be explosions. (So many explosions.)

After over a year of entertainment filtered through the stratified silos of streaming home screens, this summer’s films will attempt to revive the idea of movies as a mainstream, communal experience. Besides the superheroes and sequels, we’ll also be treated to musicals, comedies, and animation. If that’s not your speed, take solace in that fact that there will also be counterprogramming: Sundance indies, low-budget horror flicks, arty A24 films. It’s enough to make it feel like 2019 all over again, in the very best way.

And if you’re not vaccinated yet, or are still hesitant about going into a theater, we’ve got good news for you, too — many of this summer’s buzziest titles will also be available on streaming or VOD, so you don’t have to miss out on the fun.

In preparation for the first summer of the rest of our lives, grab a soda as big as your head, stuff your face full of popcorn, and enjoy Vulture’s list of our 97 most anticipated movies of the season.


All Light, Everywhere

Theo Anthony’s indescribable directorial debut Rat Film explored poverty, segregation, and the history of redlining by way of Baltimore’s rodent problems. His follow-up, All Light, Everywhere, is another documentary as cinematic essay, this one considering human biases and the unreliability of images, especially as they relate to surveillance tech and police body cameras.

In theaters June 4

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Despite the fact that most of the sequels and spinoffs to James Wan’s 2013 horror hit have disappointed to various degrees, we still haven’t given up on this old-fashioned possession franchise. Besides, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have settled into a nice groove as real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, and this one’s director, Michael Chaves, helmed 2019’s The Curse of La Llorona, perhaps the best previous film in The Conjuring-verse not actually called The Conjuring.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max June 4


Coming off a trio of acclaimed period films, Christian Petzold opts for a present-day setting for his latest, a romance tinged with the supernatural. Paula Beer plays the title character, a museum historian living in Berlin who also happens to be a mythical creature. Her background comes into play when her lover, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), breaks off their relationship, leaving her obligated to kill him — unless she can figure a way out of her folkloric destiny.

In theaters and on VOD June 4


Welsh filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut is a horror film about horror films — specifically, the low-budget “video nasties” of the ’80s and the Thatcher-era moral panic they drummed up. The main character, Enid (Niamh Algar), works as a censor, and finds herself in the center of a media firestorm after one of the films she approves appears to inspire a real-world act of violence.

In theaters June 11 and on VOD June 18

In the Heights

Full disclosure: In the Heights was the last film many critics saw in a theater before everything fell apart last year, and it was already clear back then that Jon M. Chu’s throbbing, crowded, sweaty, exuberant adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical was going to hit differently in a world where we were no longer allowed to be physically anywhere near each other. Now that things are presumably getting back to something sorta-kinda-maybe not-quite normal, it’s clear that the film will still hit differently. That it’s exceptionally well-made and would have been deeply moving under any circumstances is just icing on the cake.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max June 11


Abel Ferrara’s long collaboration with Willem Dafoe continues with this film set in, yes, Siberia. Dafoe plays Clint, an American living and running a bar in the region’s remote mountains who, in an apparent search for even greater isolation, takes off on a dogsled on a dreamlike journey into the wild, or maybe his own memory.

In theaters and on VOD June 18


This is that Pixar movie that looks like an animated, kid-friendly version of Call Me by Your Name: It’s about a young boy who befriends another boy on the Italian Riviera one summer, and about how they grow close and discover they’re both … uh, sea monsters. In other words, it’s probably not an animated, kid-friendly version of Call Me by Your Name, and will probably have to work overtime to dispel that notion. It is, however, definitely Italian: Director Enrico Casarosa cites the work of Fellini, Visconti, and other great Italian filmmakers as influences on his movie, and the whole thing is apparently dedicated to Ennio Morricone. Now that’s intriguing.

On Disney+ June 18

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

The jury is still out on whether director Will Gluck’s 2018 adaptation of Peter Rabbit was a delightfully irreverent reinvention or a pandering desecration of Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s classic. But it did establish Domhnall Gleeson as a slapstick comic genius, and he’s back for this one, so that’s cause for celebration. (Also, the film has already opened in Australia and has gotten pretty good reviews.)

In theaters June 18

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It

This documentary about the Puerto Rican icon is understandably celebratory as it looks over her seven-plus decades in show business, from Singin’ in the Rain and West Side Story to The Electric Company, The Ritz on Broadway, Oz, and One Day at a Time. But Rita Moreno is also unusually candid about her experiences as a woman of color who navigated racism, sexism, assault, and depression, and who remains a force of nature at the age of 89.

In theaters June 18

The Sparks Brothers

Ron and Russell Mael, the siblings who make up the pop-rock group Sparks, are set to have a major summer at the movies. In addition to Annette, the Leos Carax musical they co-wrote, the Maels are also the subject of an exhaustive documentary by none other than Edgar Wright, who enlists a dizzying array of musical peers and celebrity fans as interviews.

In theaters June 18

Summer of 85

A new Francois Ozon movie about nostalgia, coming of age, sexual awakening, and summer flings? Yes, please. Ozon’s work can be hit-or-miss, but this was part of the lineup for Cannes 2020 (the one that never happened) and opened in Europe last year to solid reviews.

In theaters June 18

Sisters on Track

The journey of Tai, Rainn, and Brooke Sheppard, three young sisters who made headlines at the 2016 Junior Olympics, at a time when they were living in a Brooklyn homeless shelter, is one of the more remarkable stories of the last few years, and this Netflix documentary (which premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier in June) could break out big.

On Netflix June 24

False Positive

Ilana Glazer, who’s coincidentally expecting her first child, is the co-writer and star of this fertility thriller directed by Wonder Showzen’s John Lee. Glazer and Justin Theroux play a couple who start seeing a famous specialist (played by Pierce Brosnan) after struggling to get pregnant. He seems to have all the answers, but, given that the film’s been described as a riff on Rosemary’s Baby, he may also been harboring more nefarious ideas.

On Hulu June 25

Fast & Furious 9

They’re going to space in this one. It’s going to happen, I can feel it.

In theaters June 25


This is a documentary about humpback whales, and for those of us who are obsessed with humpback whales, it is one of our most anticipated films of the year. For the rest of you, there’s the fast-car movie.

On Apple TV+ June 25

I Carry You With Me

Documentarian Heidi Ewing (of Jesus Camp, DETROPIA, and Love Fraud) makes her first foray into narrative filmmaking (with a twist!) in this romance about Iván (Armando Espitia) and Gerardo (Christian Vázquez), who first meet in Puebla city, Mexico, and who later reunite in New York as undocumented immigrants able to live openly together, but at the cost of the ability to see family members they left behind.

In theaters June 25

The Ice Road

Liam Neeson leads a tough-guy cast that includes Laurence Fishburne and Holt McCallany in this action drama about a group of trucks driving across treacherous territory on their way to save some trapped miners. Though not officially a remake, this has serious Sorcerer and Wages of Fear vibes to it, which is a good thing. And Neeson has been looking of late to find new directions in which to channel his aging action-hero persona — this could be just the answer.

On Netflix June 25


This Twitter thread turned movie from director Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris isn’t what you think. Or rather, it isn’t the outrageously over-the-top adventure spanning strip clubs, sex work, and increasingly wild situations it might look like from afar. Aziah “Zola” King’s (played by Taylour Paige) viral story about going to Florida with a white woman (a … memorable Riley Keough) she just met to make money dancing for the weekend becomes a fascinating film about how its narrator tries to take back control of a traumatic experience by retelling it as a romp.

In theaters June 30

If you want even more…

Changing the Game
On Hulu June 1

Bad Tales
In virtual theaters June 4, in theaters/PVOD June 11

Locked In
In theaters and on VOD June 4

In theaters June 4

The Amusement Park
On Shudder June 8

On Netflix June 9

In theaters and on VOD June 11

Skater Girl
On Netfix June 11

In theaters June 11 and on VOD July 9

12 Mighty Orphans
In theaters June 11

Wish Dragon
On Netflix June 11

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard
In theaters June 16

On Netflix June 18

In theaters June 18 and on MUBI July 23

Good on Paper
On Netflix June 23

Against the Current
In theaters June 25

Werewolves Within
In theaters June 25 and on VOD July 2


The Forever Purge

The Purge series went from nifty home-invasion flick premise to blunt political allegory to perfect metaphor for our rapidly-circling-the-drain nation seemingly overnight. This new one is apparently about a post-Purge world in which one part of the country refuses to give up their Purging ways. Sounds about right.

In theaters July 2

Summer of Soul

When legends like Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Moms Mabley gathered to perform in the third iteration of the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, filmmaker Hal Tulchin was there to shoot it. But “the Black Woodstock” wasn’t given the same archival interest as the better-known one, and Tulchin’s footage sat unseen for half a century before becoming the core of this exuberant documentary, which also marks Questlove’s directorial debut.

On Hulu July 2

The Tomorrow War

Once upon a time, this Chris Pratt-starring sci-fi thriller, apparently about humanity fighting an alien invasion by drafting soldiers from the past, was supposed to be Paramount’s big Christmas release. Now, it’s Amazon Prime Video’s big Independence Day release. Did Paramount drop it for pandemic-related reasons (like it dropped so much else) or is it just … bad? We’ll find out.

On Amazon July 2

Black Widow

Neither death nor a pandemic will stop Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) from getting her long-in-coming and then delayed solo film. This Cate Shortland-directed venture, set between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, will also serve as Florence Pugh’s debut into the Marvel Cinematic Universe — she’ll play Yelena Belova, a character who, in the comics, inherits the Black Widow name.

In theaters and on PVOD on Disney+ on July 9

Space Jam 2: A New Legacy

The original Space Jam was not a good movie, but it did prove a simple scientific fact: NBA Stars + Looney Tunes cartoons = Happy Kids. This one apparently throws every other Warner Bros. property into the mix as well. It could be fun. It could be terrible. But it’s already a favorite for the future bloggers of the year 2045, so what we think doesn’t really matter. That said, it would be hilarious if LeBron James and his Lakers exited early from the NBA playoffs, thus scuttling the synergistic potential of this sequel.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max July 16


A new documentary about the chaotic, dramatic career of legendary dancer and choreographer Alvin Ailey, this was among the standouts of this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

In theaters July 23

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Now that Adam Sandler is cool again, will critics finally allow themselves to be charmed by his turn as Dracula in Sony’s extremely lucrative animated franchise? Turns out: too late! (He’s been replaced in this sequel by Brian Hull, a voice actor and impressionist.) Nevertheless, the easygoing, low-hanging pleasures of these fast, fun movies have provided reliable turn-your-brain-off entertainment for parents and children for years, and there’s no reason to expect them to stop now.

In theaters July 23


Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen, and Alex Wolff play a family whose vacation is interrupted by the realization that they’re in an M. Night Shyamalan movie. The twist in Old, probably not the only one, is that the idyllic beach the characters make their way to seems to be aging them rapidly, to the point where their entire lives play out over the course of a day.

In theaters July 23

The Green Knight

Dev Patel goes medieval in the new film from The Old Man & the Gun director David Lowery, playing Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew and, eventually, one of the greatest of his knights. The film adapts Gawain’s most famous quest, involving a mysterious green giant who comes to court with an unusual challenge that sets Gawain on a path that appears to end with his certain death.

In theaters July 30

Jungle Cruise

Again we say: Yes, this is another Disney theme-park movie, and it stars the Rock and Emily Blunt and will therefore presumably be sold as wholesome family entertainment … but don’t underestimate shlock auteur Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, Orphan, The Commuter) and his ability to sneak some genuine genre derangement in there.

In theaters July 30


In 2015, Tom McCarthy had in theaters both Spotlight, a drama about journalists covering Catholic Church child-abuse cover-ups that would win Best Picture, and The Cobbler, an Adam Sandler magical-realist dramedy considered by many to be one of the year’s low points. It’s no wonder he eased back into directing with a children’s movie on Disney+ the next year. Stillwater serves as a higher-profile follow-up for the actor and filmmaker, starring Matt Damon as an oil-rig worker who moves to France to help his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin) when she’s arrested for murder.

In theaters July 30

Blood Red Sky

Netflix is closing in on a genre-mashing trend. Two months after Zack Snyder’s zombie-outbreak heist movie, the streaming giant’s offering up this movie about a plane hijacking that forces the protagonist to reveal she’s a vampire in order to protect her son. The German horror thriller comes from The Wave’s Peter Thorwarth, who co-wrote the script with Stefan Holtz. Also, Dominic Purcell is in it, one can only hope reprising his role as Dracula in Blade: Trinity.

On Netflix in July

If you want even more…

Fear Street Trilogy
On Netflix July 2, 9, and 16

The Phantom
In theaters July 2

Die in a Gunfight
In theaters and on VOD July 16

In theaters July 16

Escape Room 2
In theaters July 16

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
In theaters July 16 and later on CNN and HBO Max

On VOD July 23

The Last Letter from Your Lover
On Netflix July 23

In theaters and on VOD July 23

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins
In theaters July 23

The Boy Behind The Door
On Shudder July 29

Resort to Love
On Netflix July 29

The Last Mercenary
On Netflix July 30

Nine Days
In theaters July 30

Enemies of the State
In theaters and on VOD July 23



We were looking forward to Annette last year, and we’re still looking forward to it this year, especially now that it has a vague release date. Leos Carax’s English-language debut is a musical written and set to songs by Sparks, with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard starring as a celebrity couple. He’s a stand-up comedian, she’s an opera singer, and Annette is the name of the daughter they have who changes their lives. Inject it right into our veins, please.

In theaters August 6 and on Amazon Prime August 20


Pablo Larraín’s last film was about Jackie Kennedy (as played by Natalie Portman), and his next film will be about Princess Diana (as played by Kristen Stewart). But in between, he returned to his native Chile to make a film about a woman who hasn’t been enshrined in history. Ema stars Mariana Di Girolamo as the title character, a dancer whose marriage to a choreographer (Gael García Bernal) crumbles after they’re forced to surrender their adopted son, sending her on a journey of destruction and discovery.

In theaters August 6

The Suicide Squad

Since the cowards at Warner Bros. refuse to #ReleasetheAyerCut, we’ll have to settle for this: a whole new Suicide Squad movie, directed this time by Guardians of the Galaxy auteur James Gunn, who makes a controversial leap from Marvel to DC. You can’t quite call it a reboot — Margot Robbie, Joel Kinnaman, and Viola Davis are all returning from the first — but the studio probably doesn’t want you to call it a sequel either, given the ghastly reputation of the original.

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max August 6

Swan Song

Udo Kier reportedly gives the performance of a lifetime in this movie from Todd Stephens, playing Pat Pitsenbarger, a hairstylist who escapes from the Ohio nursing home in which he’s been waiting out his later years. When a former client dies and expresses a wish to have her hair done by Pat in her will, he makes an escape, crossing town and crossing items off his bucket list on the way to her funeral.

In theaters August 6 and on VOD August 13


Matt Yoka’s lively documentary about the married Los Angeles couple who transformed TV journalism with their use of helicopter shots to cover breaking news was one of the best films of Sundance 2020 (that’s last year’s festival, the one that was actually held in person, pre-COVID). Utilizing a marvelous, never-before-seen archive of incredible footage, it’s a fascinating, at times heartbreaking story that’s been put together in thrilling fashion.

In theaters and on demand August 6


Even in a COVID year, Sundance gotta Sundance. CODA is the latest festival darling to brave the wider public after a record-breaking acquisition following its premiere at a hybrid iteration of the event in January. Written and directed by Tallulah’s Sian Heder, the crowd-pleaser stars Emilia Jones as a CODA — a child of deaf adults — who feels caught between feelings of obligation toward her Massachusetts fishing-town family, who depend on her to translate, and her own musical dreams and desires to study at Berklee College of Music.

In theaters and on Apple TV+ August 13


With Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s latest feature, he toes the line between film and video installation with long, observational, and often dialogue-free takes. Days stars his regular lead Lee Kang-sheng and first-timer Anong Houngheuangsy as men going about their respective economically disparate lives. They meet when one orders a massage from the other in an attempt to assuage the pain he’s been in — a point of physical and intimate contact that may or may not lead to a connection.

In theaters August 13

The Lost Leonardo

The noble tradition of art-fraud documentaries may be getting a new pantheon title with this exposé of the controversy surrounding the Salvator Mundi, the allegedly rediscovered da Vinci painting (a claim disputed by many) that sold to a Saudi prince in 2017 for $450 million.

In theaters August 13

The Meaning of Hitler

Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker (of How to Fold a Flag and Karl Marx City) use Sebastian Haffner’s 1978 book The Meaning of Hitler as a jumping-off point for their new documentary, which spans nine countries and loops in thoughts from various thinkers, historians, and Nazi hunters in trying to understand what Hitler means in the context of the present-day surges in hate and white surpremacy.

In theaters and on VOD August 13


[Whispering to date while watching this supernatural thriller that Neill Blomkamp shot last summer during the pandemic] “That’s the guy who directed Chappie.”

In theaters August 20 and on VOD August 27

The Night House

Rebecca Hall plays a woman who’s still reeling from the sudden death of her husband, an architect who built the beautiful lakeside house in which they’d been living, when strange things start happening at night. While director David Bruckner weaves in some unexpected scares, the driving force of this horror hit out of last year’s Sundance is Hall’s performance of someone starting to wonder how well she knew the man she’s grieving.

In theaters August 20

The Beatles: Get Back

In They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson took documentary footage from World War I and digitally restored it to make those soldiers come back to cinematic life in eye-popping fashion. This time, he’s done it for the Beatles, taking documentary footage from the Let It Be sessions, reportedly refurbishing and recutting it to challenge assertions that the Fab Four hated each other by the time of their final album. (Sigh. We’re never getting that Tintin sequel, are we?)

In theaters August 27


It seems as if we’ve been anticipating Nia DaCosta’s revitalization of Bernard Rose and Clive Barker’s 1992 horror classic for years and years now. Perhaps because with each passing day, the story seems to gain more and more relevance. Besides, we could use a good studio horror picture nowadays.

In theaters August 27

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Amid all the hoopla for Black Widow and The Eternals, anticipation for Marvel’s first film with an Asian lead seems to be a tad more muted. But the presence of writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12), whose forte tends to be intimate drama, makes this another intriguing creative gamble for the studio, which has so far maintained a pretty sterling track record when it comes to convincing exciting indie directors to join the borg the Marvel family.

In theaters September 3

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal & Greed

With a title like that, there’s no way in hell we’re missing this one.

On Netflix this summer

Faya Dayi

Jessica Beshir’s visually striking, poetic meditation on Ethiopia’s culture of khat (a druglike plant that’s chewed in East Africa and parts of the Middle East) was one of the standout titles at Sundance this year. Of course, with its nonnarrative, elliptical stream of images, this isn’t exactly a “summer movie” — but it may well prove to be one of the year’s most-acclaimed films, which means you’ll want to see it.

In theaters this summer

If you want even more…

John and the Hole
In theaters and VOD August 6

The Kissing Booth 3
On Netflix August 11

Don’t Breathe 2
In theaters August 13

Free Guy
In theaters August 13

In theaters August 13

Paw Patrol: The Movie
In theaters August 20

The Protege
In theaters August 20

In theaters and on VOD August 20

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max August 20

Sweet Girl
On Netflix August 20

He’s All That
On Netflix August 27

On Netflix in August

The Big Scary “S” Word
In theaters September 3

The Loud House Movie
On Netflix this summer

Till Death
In theaters and on VOD this summer

On Netflix this summer

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96 Movies You May or May Not Want to See This Summer