Roeper’s 21 for 2021: The most anticipated movies of the new year

With a Cruella origin story, the return of Doctor Octopus and a new “Matrix,” the next 12 months have more to offer than just 2020’s postponed leftovers.

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Logan Kim and Mckenna Grace in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment

Last year around this time we were looking forward to 2020 buzz-worthy films such as “No Time to Die,” “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Candyman” and “Dune.”

One year and one global pandemic later, we’re still awaiting those titles, along with dozens of other films that were scheduled for 2020 and then postponed. Even now, the movies from at least the first few months of 2021 will be primarily home video releases; it’s likely we’ll be deep into the summer movie season before any film premieres on thousands of screens. In putting together my list of 21 movies I’m keen to see in 2021, I’m going to avoid repetition by setting aside the above titles and many others that were scheduled to open last year.

But I’m still dying to see the new “Candyman.”

‘The White Tiger’ (Jan. 22, Netflix)

The talented writer-director Ramin Bahrani adapts the bestselling and prize-winning novel of the same name, in a tale with surface similarities to “Slumdog Millionaire” in that both films address India’s class struggles. Adarsh Gourav plays Balram Halwai, an ambitious villager who becomes a driver for a wealthy couple (Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra-Jonas) who have just returned from America. To say this story takes some strange and surprising and darkly funny turns is an understatement.

‘Malcolm & Marie’ (Feb. 5, Netflix)

Two of the most in-demand rising talents in Hollywood, John David Washington and Zendaya, play a couple who come home from a movie premiere and get into a detailed discussion about their past relationships. Writer-director Sam Levinson reteams with his “Euphoria” star Zendaya in a film shot on 35mm in black and white last summer in Carmel, California, under strict COVID-19 protocols.

‘Judas and the Black Messiah” (Feb. 12, theatrical and HBO Max)

On the heels of Aaron Sorkin’s triumphant “The Trial of the Chicago 7” comes another Chicago-set 1960s period piece about the life and times of Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party, who was shot and killed by police during a raid on Dec. 4, 1969. The greatly gifted Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out,” “Black Panther”) stars as Hampton.

‘The Mauritanian’ (Feb. 19)

Director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland,” “Black Sea,” “State of Play”) helms this international legal thriller based on the true story of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, who was held at Guantanamo Bay detention camp for some 14 years and endured unspeakable physical and psychological abuse without ever facing charges or trial. Tahar Rahim plays Salahi, while Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley are the attorneys who fight for justice.

‘The United States vs. Billie Holiday’ (February date TBA, Hulu)


In “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” Andra Day (center) plays the blues and jazz singer.

Paramount Pictures

Here’s another albeit very different legal drama, directed by Lee Daniels (“The Butler,” “Precious”) and starring Andra Day as the iconic blues and jazz singer, who became the target of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. Trevante Rhodes co-stars as Jimmy Fletcher, the lead investigator on the case — who also had a stormy affair with Holiday. “The United States vs Billie Holiday” was originally scheduled for a Feb. 26 theatrical release, but in late December the rights were purchased by Hulu, which reportedly is eyeing a release date sometime before Feb. 28, when the window for Oscar consideration closes.

‘Coming 2 America’ (March 5, Amazon Prime)

Just when we need them the most, Akeem (Eddie Murphy) and Semmi (Arsenio Hall) and many other beloved characters from one of great comedies of the 20th century return to America after Akeem learns he has a son. If you’re not excited about this one, I don’t know if we can remain friends.

‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (March 5, theatrical and Disney+)

The 59th film from Walt Disney Animation Studios is a fantastical adventure set in the long-ago world of Kumandra, where humans and dragons lived peacefully — until they didn’t. The talented Kelly Marie Tran (“The Last Jedi”) voices the warrior princess Raya, while the spectacularly gifted Awkwafina is Sisu, the last dragon on Earth.

‘The Many Saints of Newark’ (March 12, theatrical and HBO Max)

“Sopranos” creator David Chase takes us back to the New Jersey of 1967 and the early years of one Tony Soprano, with Michael Gandolfini playing the character made famous by his late father, James Gandolfini. The stellar supporting cast includes Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Ray Liotta, Vera Farmiga and Alessandra Nivola.

‘Bios’ (April 16)

Yes, it’s yet another futuristic sci-fi drama about one of the last men on Earth — but it’s Tom Hanks playing the survivor, an inventor named Finch, and Caleb Landry Jones playing Finch’s robot friend Jeff. It’s like Wilson the volleyball if Wilson could talk!

‘Last Night in Soho’ (April 23)


Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith in “Last Night in Soho.”

Focus Features

Edgar Wright (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” “Baby Driver”) directs this time-tripping psychological horror fantasy film starring Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) as Sandy, a young woman who finds herself in the London of the swingin’ 1960s. In a movie universe brimming with sequels and reboots, we’re rooting extra hard for those filmmakers who dare to try something utterly original.

‘Cruella’ (May 28)


Emma Stone plays a future villain in her formative years in “Cruella.”


Ooh, an origins story about one of the most notorious villains in the Disney library! Emma Stone plays the young fashion designer Estella de Vil, and the outstanding supporting cast includes Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong — and Emma Thompson as the Baroness, who just might be responsible for making Estella so Cruella.

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ (June 11)

Speaking of most welcome sequels to classic comedies from the 1980s, this direct sequel to the first two “Ghostbusters” movies brings back Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver and Annie Potts in an all-new adventure directed by Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Young Adult”) and produced by Jason’s father Ivan Reitman, who directed “Ghostbusters” and “Ghostbusters II.” Who ya gonna call, indeed!

‘Luca’ (June 18)


Pixar’s “Luca” is set on the Italian Riviera.


Pixar’s latest original animated movie is a coming-of-age adventure set in Italy. This is the closest thing to a sure bet as any movie coming out in 2021, as at least 90% of Pixar’s films over the last quarter-century have been good-to-great, and only a very few have been clunkers (I’m looking at you, “Cars 2.”)

‘Zola’ (June 30)

You knew it was bound to happen: a feature film inspired by a Twitter thread, in this case an epic 148-tweet narrative about a Detroit waitress named Zola (Taylour Paige) who takes a trip to Florida with a sex worker (Riley Keough), with all sorts of madness ensuing along the way. This sounds like one of those movies that’s either going to be smart and original and memorable — or a trainwreck. (The reviews out of Sundance were largely positive, so hope remains strong.)

‘Deep Water’ (Aug. 13)

After a nearly 20-year hiatus, director Adrian Lyne ( “9 ½ Weeks,” “Fatal Attraction,” “Unfaithful”) returns to the erotic thriller genre with a film based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley”). Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas play a married couple who have fallen out of love and begin playing mind games that turn …. DEADLY!

‘The Last Duel’ (Oct. 15)

Still kicking ass at the age of 83, the great Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator”) directs this historical action drama set in 14th century France, with Matt Damon and Adam Driver playing best friends who become mortal enemies ordered to fight to the death. Expect lots of mud, blood and gore, and mostly dark skies.

‘Encanto’ (Nov. 24)

The wonderful Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton,” and I probably don’t even have to remind you of that) provides the music for Disney’s animated musical about a Colombian girl who is the only non-magical member of her family. Expect catchy tunes, silly humor and no doubt a tear-inducing moment or three.

‘West Side Story’ (Dec. 10)


Ariana DeBose as Anita and David Alvarez as Bernardo in “West Side Story.”

20th Century Fox

Some 60 years after the filmed adaptation of the Broadway sensation by Arthur Laurents, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, the new “West Side Story” is said to be more faithful to the source material (which was based on “Romeo and Juliet”). Steven Spielberg directs, with Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria — and a supporting cast including the legendary Rita Moreno, who co-starred in the 1961 film.

Untitled ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ sequel (Dec. 17)


Alfred Molina (seen in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”) will reprise the character in a new Spidey movie this fall.

Columbia Tri-Star

Tom Holland is the best of the Spidey actors of the 21st century and he’s set to return in a new adventure with Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doctor Octopus, last seen in the Tobey Maguire-starring “Spider-Man 2” in 2004. Also returning: Jamie Foxx’s Electro from the Andrew Garfield-starring “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” in 2014. Talk about a multi-verse!

‘The Matrix 4’ (Dec. 22)

Hey, it’s the guy from the “John Wick” movies! Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lambert Wilson and Daniel Bernhardt also return, with Lana Wachowski as co-writer and director. I’m glad “The Matrix 4” won’t be released until late December because that gives me nearly the entire year to finally figure out everything that happened in the first three “Matrix” movies.

‘Babylon’ (Dec. 25)

Writer-director Damien Chazelle (“Whiplash,” “First Man,” “La La Land”) helms a story set in Hollywood during the transition from silent films to talkies — and speaking of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie are the headliners here, in a premise similar to Tarantino’s film in that some characters will be purely fictional while others are based on real-life figures.

Here’s hoping that by the time “Babylon” reaches theaters, those theaters will be safely open to full capacity.

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