New movies 2021: what to watch in theaters this year – and which films are streaming

There’s no getting away from it: 2020 was a disastrous year for theaters.

Covid-19-induced lockdowns led to unprecedented closures of theaters around the world forcing major studios to pull movie after movie from their release schedules. Even the few movies that did make it to the screen – Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984, for instance – struggled to get anywhere near the box office takings they’d have made in any other year.

But thanks to the successful rollout of vaccines in many countries, theaters have finally reopened en masse. As such, we’re being treated to more movies in a single season than we might have been previously, and 2021 could turn into one of the biggest years for Hollywood in living memory. 

Not only will we have (hopefully) seen four Marvel Cinematic Universe releases come the end of the year (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel’s Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home), but we’ve also already been lucky enough to eat up the action of big budget flicks like No Time to Die and Dune.

With big hitters originally scheduled for 2020 competing against 2021’s existing release slate, competition is going to be fierce. Indeed, it’s unlikely there are enough opening weekends to sustain everything – a few huge blockbusters will almost definitely take big hits at the box office, or end up being pushed back further (a fate which has befallen both Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: Impossible 7). 

And that’s before you factor in movies being shifted to streaming platforms (all of Warner’s theatrical releases for 2021, for instance, will launch simultaneously on HBO Max), and ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

With that said, then, don’t be surprised if some of the dates below move significantly over the coming months. If there’s one thing we can be certain of in these topsy-turvy times, it’s that we should expect the unexpected.

Last Night in Soho

Release date: October 29, 2021 (theatrical)

A new Edgar Wright movie is always something to get excited about and his seventh, Last Night in Soho, is set to mark another shift of direction after the stylish action of Baby Driver. Indeed, it doesn’t look like the new film will include much of the Spaced/Cornetto trilogy comedy that made Wright’s name. Instead, it’s a time-hopping horror story, where a fashion student finds herself transported back to the seedy side of 1960s London. Expect the cinema-literate Wright to make something very special of this.  

Marvel’s Eternals

Release date: November 5, 2021 (theatrical)

Featuring a bunch of barely known bunch a-holes running around in outer space, Guardians of the Galaxy looked like a big risk for Marvel back in 2014. The MCU has subsequently been so good at turning anything it touches to box-office gold, however, that nobody’s particularly concerned about Eternals, even though it’s a similarly unfamiliar property. 

The film marks a new level of scale even for Marvel, with a story of god-like beings (stars include Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington and Salma Hayek) told across thousands of years. While Disney Plus shows WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier gave us our first glimpse of where Marvel’s post-Avengers: Endgame future is heading, expect Eternals to supply the big screen spectacle – especially as Oscar-winning Nomadland director Chloé Zhao is at the helm.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Release date: November 19, 2021 (theatrical)

Ghostbusters meets Stranger Things – and not just because the cast features Finn Wolfhard, one of the young stars of Netflix’s nostalgic smash hit. The second update of the beloved ’80s spooky comedies – after 2016’s underrated female-led reboot – moves the action away from New York to Nowheresville USA, as a pair of kids stumble upon proton packs, Ecto-1 and other ghost-hunting paraphernalia. 

The fact it’s set in the same continuity as the original movies (with most of the surviving stars returning) will lend the project extra kudos points – as should director Jason Reitman being original Ghostbusters helmer Ivan Reitman’s son. 

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Release date: November 24, 2021 (US, theatrical), 3 December, 2021 (UK, theatrical)

It turns out you can’t keep a bunch of zombies down for long, as the long-running movie franchise based on the long-running videogame franchise gets a reboot. Original star/director combo Milla Jovovich and Paul WS Anderson have vacated Raccoon City for this 1998-set origin story. Instead, The Maze Runner’s Kaya Scodelario will play Claire Redfield, with The Tomorrow People’s Robbie Amell as her brother Chris, and Ant-Man and the Wasp’s Hannah John-Kamen as Jill Valentine. 47 Meters Down director Johannes Roberts marshals the survival horror carnage.

West Side Story

Release date: December 10, 2021 (theatrical)

The year is set to go out with a song and dance, as all eyes turn to Steven Spielberg’s first ever big screen musical. And let’s be honest, the legendary director of Indiana Jones, Jaws and Saving Private Ryan couldn’t have chosen a bigger act to follow. Robert Wise’s Oscar-winning 1961 movie version of the classic Bernstein and Sondheim production is undoubtedly one of the greatest screen musicals of all time, so it’ll be exciting to see what Spielberg can bring to the party.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Release date: December 17, 2021 (theatrical)

The most remarkable thing about Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it exists at all. Thankfully, rights holders Sony were able to settle a dispute with Marvel Studios that could have seen Tom Holland’s Spidey going solo, and now the Wallcrawler will continue to operate within the labyrinthine continuity of the MCU. 

The mid-credits twist of Far From Home makes that particularly welcome news, having plunged Spidey into new territory when Mysterio revealed Peter Parker’s secret identity to the world. It also looks like he’ll be exploring the multiverse, with several rumors suggesting that two former screen Spideys, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, are joining the action. Old villains like Electro, Doc Ock and Green Goblin are already confirmed to appear, thanks to teasers in the movie’s first trailer.

The Matrix Resurrections

Release date: December 22, 2021 (US, theatrical and streaming via HBO Max and UK, theatrical)

The Matrix saga was supposed to be done and dusted after the twin disappointments of Reloaded and Revolutions, but Warner Bros. is inviting us to take the red pill once more in this unexpected follow-up. Lana Wachowski, half of the original writer/director team, is back for the reboot, along with stars Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. Both their characters died in the original trilogy, so we’re not sure how this movie fits in with the predecessors – the Wachowskis were secretive even before JJ Abrams and Christopher Nolan made it fashionable, so concrete information is thin on the ground. Still, in the cyber-world of The Matrix, pretty much anything should be possible, so expect to see bullet-time taken to the next level.

Confirmed to be called The Matrix Resurrections, the movie’s first teaser trailer was unveiled at this year’s CinemaCon event, and we’ve broken down 11 things we noticed.

The King’s Man

Release date: December 22, 2021 (theatrical)

After the fun action of Kingsman: The Secret Service, the franchise quickly went off the rails with the overblown The Golden Circle. There’s a lot riding on this third instalment, then, which may be why it’s gone in such a radical new direction, heading back to World War I to show the early days of top-secret, impeccably tailored spy organization The Kingsmen. Ralph Fiennes is the M-type figure (shouldn’t be too much of a stretch…) who recruits Harris Dickinson’s Conrad to the club to combat an early 20th century brand of villainy. Sounds like a retro James Bond to us, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Big 2022 movies

Looking further ahead, these are the big movies coming up in 2022. 


Release date: January 28, 2022 (theatrical)

Having had a monster hit with Venom in 2018, Sony plunders Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery once again, with a movie focusing on one Michael Morbius. The so-called “living vampire” is a scientist who uses an experimental serum to cure a debilitating condition, and ends up turning himself into a bloodsucker.

Jared Leto, who has comic book movie form as the Joker, takes on the role of Morbius, alongside former Doctor Who star Matt Smith as Loxias Crown, a villain with the same bloodsucking affliction as the title star. Daniel Espinosa is at the helm – a remarkable piece of synergy, seeing as his 2017 movie Life was once rumored to be a Venom prequel.

Death on the Nile

Release date: February 11, 2022 (theatrical)

Kenneth Branagh directs the sequel to his Murder on the Orient Express adaptation, where he returns to his role – and that impressively sculpted facial hair – as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. As in the first movie, he’s taken a dazzling ensemble cast along for the ride, this time including Gal Gadot, Sex Education’s Emma Mackey and Black Panther’s Letitia Wright. Don’t expect any massive surprises in the plot – the story’s over 80 years old – but with whodunits like this, the fun is always in watching Poirot sleuthing up a storm.

(Image Sony Pictures/Tom Holland)


Release date: February 18, 2022 (theatrical)

Tom Holland stars as PlayStation-originated hero Nathan Drake in this adaptation of Naughty Dog’s games, which also co-stars Mark Wahlberg. This one’s been kicking around the schedules for years, and this time director Ruben Fleischer (Venom, Zombieland) is attached to make it. The games themselves were pretty cinematic, so it’ll be interesting to see if this film can contribute anything new to Drake’s story.

The Batman

Release date: March 4, 2022 (theatrical)

Robert Pattinson follows in the footsteps of Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck as the latest man to don the most famous cowl in cinema. Dawn of/War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves gets the keys to the Batmobile in the latest reboot of the most versatile hero in comics, and he’s promised his take on the Caped Crusader will feel “very psychological, very emotional”. 

Gotham City is traditionally defined by its villains, however, and The Batman has plenty, with Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as Riddler and Colin Farrell as The Penguin. This could be a worthy successor to Christopher Nolan’s superlative Dark Knight trilogy.

Top Gun: Maverick

Release date: May 27, 2022 (theatrical)

Tom Cruise climbs back into that famous fighter jet cockpit for the first time since Top Gun made him the biggest star on the planet over three decades ago. Resurrecting the most ’80s of movies in the cut and thrust of the 21st century marketplace is a gamble, even for Cruise, but the production team are doing everything they can to recapture the old magic – as well as real action with real planes, they’ve brought back synth legend Harold ‘Axel F’ Faltermeyer on music duties. Plot wise, Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is still an instructor at the Top Gun school, while one of his students (played by Whiplash’s Miles Teller) just happens to be the son of Mav’s late co-pilot, Goose. We’re still feeling the need for speed…

Jurassic World: Dominion

Release date: June 10, 2022 (theatrical)

If there’s one certainty in Hollywood, it’s that – like life – major franchises find a way. So, despite production having been halted by coronavirus restrictions in March 2020, the sixth Jurassic movie got back in front of the cameras in July of last year. The big news this time out is that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard will be joining forces with Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, all reprising their roles from the original Jurassic Park. But with dinosaurs now loose on American soil after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, this movie promises to be very different to its prehistoric predecessors.

We were supposed to be seeing this in June 2021, but you can fill the hole with short film Battle at Big Rock (above).

Mission: Impossible

(Image Paramount Pictures)

Mission: Impossible 7

Release date: September 30, 2022 (theatrical)

Tom Cruise will have hit 60 by the time the seventh Mission: Impossible movie smashes its way into cinemas. Don’t expect him to give up his mantle as Hollywood’s leading action star anytime soon, however, as there’s still plenty of spectacular stunts for Cruise to risk life and limb for – part of the fun of the series is finding out what its leading man will dare to try next. Having delivered the long-running franchise’s best instalments with Rogue Nation and Fallout, Christopher McQuarrie is back behind the camera for part 7 and its follow-up. Plot details are currently wrapped up tighter than a government vault, but Mission: Impossible is a brand that tends to deliver.

Avatar 2

(Image 20th Century Fox/Disney)

Avatar 2

Release date: December 16, 2022 (theatrical)

James Cameron is anything but prolific these days – Avatar 2 will be his third movie in 25 years – but when he does step behind the camera, you know you’ll be seeing something groundbreaking. He tends to spend the long gaps between releases waiting for filmmaking technology to catch up with his vision, so his return to the spectacular alien ecosystem of Pandora will feature world-first underwater performance capture sequences. 

Kate Winslet (who held her breath for an incredible seven minutes during filming), Jemaine Clement and Cliff Curtis join the cast alongside Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang also return, despite their characters being presumed dead.

While this sequel was delayed a year as part of Disney’s massive Covid-19-induced release date shake up, you won’t have to wait another decade for more Avatar – part 3 is set for December 2024, with a fourth and fifth movie also in the works.

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