Stephen Arnell

Films to look out for in 2021

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For cinema goers 2020 was understandably a year of thin gruel. The advent of Covid-19 meant that many films banking on a big cinema release were shunted to this year - the underwhelming box office performance of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet confirming the wisdom of this choice. Some movies were moved to limited cinema and simultaneous pay-per-view release, such as The Witches and Mulan - a model that Warner Bros have decided to go full tilt with on their streaming service HBO Max. Justifiably this has caused uproar in the creative community, with directors including Nolan and Denis Villeneuve (Dune) particularly vocal.

The first fruits of Warner’s decision were the recent release of Wonder Woman 1984; it’s too early to say whether the box office and streaming revenue backs the strategy. But if it does, expect other studios to follow suit.

Movie releases in 2021 will obviously depend on public confidence in returning to cinemas when it's possible to do so.  Spring looks like crunch time as studios need to release the backlog of blockbusters (Bond, Marvel, DC etc) to bring audiences back. So, with these caveats, a look at some of the motion pictures heading our way in 2021:


Paul W. S. Anderson’s (Alien Vs Predator, Event Horizon) video game adaptation Monster Hunter has already managed to upset Chinese audiences with a verbal pun about knees that backfired with Asian audiences and was widely interpreted as a racial slur. The film was pulled by many Chinese cinemas just one day after its release. We'll see how it fares with US and British audiences - and whether producers will remove the offending line.

Sky will also be releasing a remake of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (directed in 1945 by David Lean) on their Cinema channel. Dan Stevens takes Rex Harrison’s lead role as Charles Condomine, with Judi Dench as the psychic Madame Aracati (Margaret Rutherford in the original), although judging by the trailer the stylised acting might be an acquired taste:


The second month of the year sees the UK release of Promising Young Woman starring Carey Mulligan and the OC's Adam Brody. Directed by Emerald Fennell who starred as Camilla in The Crown, it's a darkly comic take down of date-rape where the protagonist Cassie exacts her revenge on a string of would-be offenders,  with a denouement that upends viewers’ expectations.

February is to be Mulligan's month as Netflix release Sutton Hoo-themed archaeology drama The Dig on 29th January. Ralph Fiennes stars as a rustically accented self-taught excavator Basil Brown, who discovers the Anglo-Saxon ship burial in 1939 on the estate of Edith Pretty, played by Carey Mulligan. The ubiquitous Lily James features as famed archaeologist Peggy Preston.

The month should also see the limited release of Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky’s Academy award nominated Dear Comrades!, an historical drama about the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre of striking workers at an electric plant. Despite the downbeat subject-matter, it was a hit with The Spectator's Deborah Ross. Read her review here.

For an off-beat movie experience in February, I would suggest the Oscar-tipped Danish booze-themed drama Another Round, starring the great Mads Mikkelsen. However bad lockdown gets, don't attempt to drink along.

Michelle Pfeiffer is picking up serious awards buzz for the leftfield comedy French Exit, where she plays a millionairess on her uppers who decamps to Paris with her twenty-something son (played by Lucas Hedges) and pet moggie Small Frank, who happens to be her reincarnated husband (presumably Big) Frank.


I may be overdoing it to say that the Kingsmen prequel The King’s Man is eagerly awaited, but the pre-WWI premise and fresh cast promise something other than a re-tread of the previous two pictures.

In addition to his current turn as M in Bond, Ralph Fiennes plays aristocratic spymaster The Duke of Oxford, with Rhys Ifans as the baddie, randy monk Grigori Rasputin and Tom Hollander playing the fun-size monarchs George V, Wilhelm II and Nicholas II.

Charles Dance turns up as Lord Kitchener, the rather rum military man who taught Dad’s Army’s Corporal Jones

After January’s The Dig, vaguely similar territory is covered in Ammonite, a tale set in 1840s England that uses real life as springboard to portray the supposed love affair between self-taught palaeontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) and the middle class married geologist Charlotte Murchison. One that's bound to set the tongues of history buffs wagging.

Other movies scheduled for UK cinemas in March include the Marvel vampire flick Morbius and the Colin Firth/Stanley Tucci dementia drama Supernova - a melancholic road trip film with much to say about mortality and making life count. Spot on for the pandemic or too much? We'll see.

We can also look forward to Fisherman’s Friends 2 (The EU Strikes Back?) which was filmed in Cornwall last summer. The first film was a surprise box office hit. Despite its low budget and largely unknown cast it grossed £1.2 million over its first weekend. 

For straight-to-DVD king Nicholas Cage, the meta-action comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent could mark the actor’s comeback.

Playing himself, a skint Cage gets mixed up with a wealthy super fan who happens to be a Mexican cartel boss, played by Pedro (The Mandalorian) Pascal. Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish and Neil Patrick Harris all feature in supporting roles. The question is – will the TUWOMT be a Being John Malkovich-style critical hit – or a Bula Quo?


April is the current month scheduled for Daniel Craig’s last appearance as 007 in No Time to Die, which should dominate the box office if finally released.

Instead of going with the obvious choice of No Time to Die I’m going to highlight Edgar (Baby Driver) Wright’s new ‘time travelling’ horror-thriller Last Night in Soho:

Apparently influenced by Roman Polanksi’s schizo-drama Repulsion (1965) and Nic Roeg’s classic chiller Don’t Look Now (1973), Soho depicts a Swinging Sixties London which is not quite what it seems. Fittingly, the picture features three icons from the era, namely Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, and the late Diana Rigg. Fingers crossed Last Night in Soho is more Baby Driver than Scott Pilgrim vs. The World…

Also set for an April release is the hotly anticipated sequel of surprise box office hit A Quiet Place, starring Emily Blunt and directed by her husband John Krasinski. 

After the success of last year’s Academy Award winning Parasite, South Korean Woo Min-ho’s political thriller The Man Standing Next has been entered into the Best International Film category.

Concerning the real-life ‘Koreagate’ episode of influence-peddling in the US and the assassination of President Park in 1979, the picture promises to reveal a fascinating chapter in South Korean history neglected in the West.

Also released in April is the critically lauded asylum seeker comedy Limbo, where four refugees stay on a remote island in Scotland taking cultural awareness classes before they hear their eventual fate.


Wes Anderson’s 10th picture is set for a late-spring release, The French Dispatch is about the exploits of American journalists in late 1960s France.

Familiar Anderson faces appearing in the movie include Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton and many others.

Delayed blockbusters come thick and fast (sic) in May, with Fast & Furious 9, Godzilla vs Kong and Marvel’s Black Widow.

Not really a choice for the film aesthetes out there, as Fast 9 supposedly will see the franchise do a Moonraker and venture into space, with wrestler John Cena featuring as Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) hitherto unmentioned bad-to-the-bone brother Jakob.

Hopefully, Godzilla vs Kong (which will be a simultaneous HBO Max release) will be closer to the standard of 2017’s Skull Island, rather than 2019’s utterly missable Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Of the three, my money’s on Black Widow, a prequel to the Avengers Endgame (2019) with Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff returning to her spy roots to clean up the red in her ledger.

David Harbour (Stranger Things) stars as The Red Guardian, Soviet Russia’s flabby over-the-hill version of Captain America. The cast also includes Florence Pugh, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Rachel Weisz and Ray Winstone, who, with any luck will attempt a better Russian accent than his hopeless attempt at a Boston twang in The Departed (2006).


There are slim pickings in June by the looks of the early cinema release schedules, with the sequels Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Venom: Let There Be Carnage looking to hoover up most of the action.

After 2016’s dud reboot, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a direct sequel to the first two films in the franchise, seeing Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts reprise their original roles.

You may recall that In the 2016 movie, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and director Ivan Reitman played non-canon cameos.

Let There Be Carnage, the sequel to 2018’s financially successful but critically pounded Venom, sees Tom Hardy’s symbiote face off against the even nastier Carnage (Woody Harrelson) with Andy (Gollum) Serkis in the director’s chair.  Another opportunity (after Bane and his disturbing M&S - style Christmas 2020 ads) for Tom Hardy to practice his penchant for silly voices.

June will also see Sly Stallone play an ageing superhero in Samaritan. The actor has also taken on comic book characters in Judge Dredd (1995), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (2017) and the upcoming second Suicide Squad movie (August 2020).


More sequels with a brooding Tom Cruise returning after decades to the role of ‘Maverick’ in the belated Top Gun (1986) follow-up, where, somewhat improbably, he’s only managed to rise to the rank of captain (from lieutenant in the first picture).

The big high concept  movie of the month is Chris Pratt’s The Tomorrow War, in which scientists bring back crack troops from various conflicts of past to fight invading aliens. Makes sense to me.


The franchises continue to roll out as The Suicide Squad, Hotel Transylvania 4, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard 2 (The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard) all attempt to score some of the high summer action.

James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad should at least be an improvement on 2016’s first movie, memorable solely for Jared Leto’s nauseating Joker and Cara Delevingne’s amateurish turn as June Moone (aka The Enchantress).

For a change of pace, music fans may well want to see Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back, which paints a very different picture of the last days of the Fab Four than Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s depressing Let it Be – drawing on the 50 odd hours of footage shot but not included in the 1970 film.


After the success of his Murder on the Orient Express remake in 2017, Ken Branagh returns to the scene of the crime, this time taking a stab (sic) at Death on the Nile - hopefully with less obvious green screen work this time.

Branagh again assembles a magnificent company of actors to go through the contortions of Agatha Christie’s plot, including Annette Bening, Dawn French, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Sophie Okonedo, Jennifer Saunders, and Letitia Wright. Oh and Russell Brand. Branagh of course revisits his turn as the distractingly moustached Belgian sleuth.


Another HBO Max/cinema release, which (as said) has earned director Denis Villeneuve’s ire, his remake of Dune looks to be an in improvement on David Lynch’s 1984 box office bomb.

Although, like many others, I would have much rather have seen Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (El Topo) abandoned attempt at Frank Herbert’s Byzantine sci-fi epic.

Returning to the premise of his debut movie The Duellists (1977), Ridley Scott’s medieval thriller The Last Duel sees Ben Aflleck and Matt Damon (who have penned the screenplay) reunite as former best friends Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris whose relationship unsurprisingly sours when Carrouges accuses Le Gris of raping his wife.


Austin Butler is set to star in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis biopic (Image: Getty)

Notable for an incensed Tom Cruise’s (aka ‘Old Yeller’) onset tirade against crew members apparently breaking Covid restrictions, the seventh instalment in the Mission Impossible franchise hits our screens in November.

Hopefully, it won’t be more of the same, as 2018’s Fallout demonstrated that, after the series perked up with Ghost Protocol (2011) and Rogue Nation (2015) the premise was beginning to wear decidedly thin.

Baz Luhrmann also gives us his Elvis biopic, with Austin Butler (Tex in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) as The King and Tom Hanks as grifting ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker.


As 2021 draws to a close, the Marvel blitz continues with the third Tom Holland Spider-Man picture which will introduce the ‘Multiverse’ with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange co-starring along with Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) from the Toby Maguire movies as well as Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Andrew Garfield’s Spidey from the latter’s two less than stellar efforts (2012, 2014).

The Matrix already suffered two unnecessary sequels, so it’s with a feeling of deep disinterest that I note the release of the fourth instalment in December – but who knows? The Wachowskis could pull it off and surprise us all.

Steven Spielberg attempts his first ever movie musical with a remake of the classic West Side Story (1961), which will hew more closely to the original 1957 Broadway version.

Let’s hope that it can wipe the spray off the genre after 2019’s Cats.