summer movies 2021
Maitane Romagosa/Thrillist

23 Movies We Can't Wait to See This Summer

Blockbusters are (sorta) back!

For a long time, summer meant blockbusters: big, splashy movies filled with giant, famous faces that you go see in a packed, buzzing theater on a hot night. Then last year, as movie theaters around the world closed their doors and unplugged their popcorn machines as the pandemic upended the film industry, the concept of "summer movie" took on a much more nebulous meaning. Now, with theaters across the country mostly reopened, and long-delayed tentpole pictures, such as A Quiet Place Part II and F9: The Fast Saga, showing that crowds are growing increasingly comfortable with seeing new releases on the big screen again, it looks like the "summer movie" is (kinda? sorta?) back. Exciting (potentially)!

We're excited about the prospect of watching movies in theaters again, and, regardless if we end up seeing them at the cineplex or on our TVs (Warner Bros., Disney and Paramount have been using their streaming services for a hybrid home-and-theatrical release strategy), it's good that many upcoming releases feel like must-sees. To help you make sense of the coming months, we've scoured the calendar through Labor Day and highlighted the most essential streaming titles, major studio releases, and potential under-the-radar gems coming your way soon.

ALSO READ: The Best Movies of 2021 (So Far)

zola
A24

Zola

Release date: June 30 in theaters
Cast: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo
Director: Janicza Bravo (Lemon)
Why we're excited: We've been raving about this film ever since it premiered way back at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Now we're thrilled that this epic saga based on an incredible Twitter thread about two strippers on a disastrous road trip is finally hitting theaters. Wanna hear a story about how Zola and this bitch fell out? We definitely do. 
(Watch trailer)

america the motion picture
Netflix

America: The Motion Picture 

Release date: June 30 on Netflix
Cast: Channing Tatum, Jason Mantzoukas, Olivia Munn, Killer Mike
Director: Matt Thompson
Why we're excited: You might remember some of the details of America's Revolutionary War from history class, but we're guessing that version didn't include a robot-centaur and laser blasters. This R-rated, animated retelling of America's founding comes from Matt Thompson, who worked on Archer and co-created Adult Swim's Sealab 2021, so expect lots of wild imagery, ridiculous action, and barbed wit.

no sudden move
Claudette Barius/Warner Bros.

No Sudden Move

Release date: July 1 on HBO Max
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Don Cheadle, Amy Seimetz, Ray Liotta, Brendan Fraser
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Why we're excited: A small-time criminal (Cheadle) hired by a mysterious individual, along with a team of robbers, attempt to steal a mysterious item from another man. But when the caper goes wrong, the authorities start bearing down, and it's up to the fugitives to discover exactly what they were stealing and who in the world they were stealing it for. With this cast and this director, expect Ocean 11 meets Burn After Reading.
(Watch trailer)

summer of soul
Searchlight Pictures/Hulu

Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Release date: July 2 on Hulu
Director: Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson 
Why we're excited: The Roots' Questlove has assembled a treasure trove of never-before-seen footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, featuring performances from Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson, and Sly and the Family Stone among many many others. Not only is Summer of Soul an invigorating concert feature, it's an important historical document. 
(Watch trailer)

the tomorrow war
Paramount Pictures/Amazon

The Tomorrow War

Release date: July 2 on Amazon Prime
Cast: Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin 
Director: Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie)
Why we're excited: This action blockbuster starring Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic Word star Chris Pratt is set in a dystopian future where humans are getting wiped out in a battle with aliens, so the government decides to pull soldiers from the past to fight in the war.

black widow
Marvel Studios

Black Widow

Release date: July 9 in theaters and Disney+
Cast: Scarlett Johanssen, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, David Harbour
Director: Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome)
Why we're excited: Nearly 10 years after the Internet began clamoring for a standalone film featuring the MCU's first female Avenger, we're finally getting one. Judging from the trailers, Black Widow looks like a lot of shooty, kicky, punchy, Russian spy fun. Not to mention the story takes place between Civil War and Infinity War, so you might want to watch out for a familiar face or two you may not expect.
(Watch the trailer)

the forever purge
Universal Pictures

The Forever Purge

Release date: July 9 in theaters
Cast: Ana de la Reguera, Josh Lucas, Tenoch Huerta, Leven Rambin
Director: Everardo Gout
Why we're excited: The dystopian idea behind The Purge series is that there's one night a year where all crime, including murder, is legal. According to the title of the latest entry, the follow-up to 2018's brutal prequel The First Purge, the Purge now lasts… forever? That news does not sound good for the weary citizens for the Purge-verse, but it could make for a pretty intense movie.

space jam
Warner Brothers

Space Jam: A New Legacy 

Release date: July 16 in theaters and on HBO Max
Cast: LeBron James, Sonequa Martin-Green, Don Cheadle, Bugs Bunny
Director: Malcolm D. Lee (Night School)
Why we're excited: While we're not getting the version of a Space Jam sequel directed by avant-garde filmmaker Terence Nance, which sounded very cool, we're still ready to slam with this new saga of basketball starring LeBron James and the Looney Tunes. Welcome to the jam, indeed.
(Watch the trailer)

Focus Features

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain

Release date: July 16 in theaters
Director: Morgan Neville (
Won't You Be My Neighbor?)
Why we're excited: Renowned documentarian Morgan Neville, who made the loving tribute to Mister Rogers Won't You Be My Neighbor?, turns his focus to Anthony Bourdain. We're still in mourning for the late television host, chef, and eater extraordinaire, so we can't wait to spend a little more time with him.

old
Universal

Old

Release date: July 23 in theaters 
Cast: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung
Director: M. Night Shyamalan (Glass)
Why we're excited: The Sixth Sense director M. Night Shyamalan looks like he's tackling a great micro-genre here: the "there's something creepy about this beautiful beach" movie. A family shows up on a seemingly idyllic spot of sandy land and find that it makes them age rapidly. Wanna bet there's a twist?
(Watch the trailer)

jungle cruise
Walt Disney Pictures

Jungle Cruise

Release date: July 30 in theaters and Disney+
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter)
Why we're excited: Based on Disneyland's beloved river cruise theme park ride, the Jungle Cruise movie brings the tale to life, dumping Emily Blunt and The Rock in the middle of the Amazon, where they must fight off dangerous wild creatures and a supernatural threat. Intrigued to see how Jaume Collet-Serra, the director of tense thrillers like The Shallows and… Orphan… handles this. 
(Watch the trailer)

the green knight
A24

The Green Knight 

Release date: July 30 in theaters 
Cast: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury
Director: David Lowery (The Old Man & The Gun)
Why we're excited: One can never have enough stylized riffs on Arthurian legend. This A24-produced medieval fantasy film from A Ghost Story and Pete's Dragon filmmaker David Lowery finds Dev Patel picking up a sword and shield to play Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, as he sets out to do battle with the mysterious Green Knight of the title. Expect contemplative shots of nature and medieval combat. 
(Watch the trailer)

suicide squad
Warner Brothers

The Suicide Squad

Release date: August 6 in theaters and on HBO Max
Cast: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman
Director: James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Why we're excited: No, you're not experiencing superhero movie déjà vu. There was a movie from 2016 called Suicide Squad, which starred Will Smith, Margot Robbie, and Jared Leto as the Joker. Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, who she played in the recent Birds of Prey movie, but most of the rest of the original movie's cast is gone and writer/director David Ayer has been replaced with James Gunn, who will hopefully find a take on these characters that doesn't require another "soft reboot" in five years.
(Watch the teaser)

kissing booth 3
Netflix

The Kissing Booth 3

Release date: August 11 on Netflix
Cast: Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Joel Courtney, Molly Ringwald
Director: Vincent Marcello (The Kissing Booth)
Why we're excited: Netflix's teen phenomenon is finally coming to an end with a third chapter. Will Elle and Noah end up together? Will there be another dance contest? And what about... a final kissing booth?

free guy
20th Century Studios

Free Guy

Release date: August 13 in theaters
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery
Director: Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum
Why we're excited: This frenzied-looking action-comedy chronicles the existential challenges of an NPC (Ryan Reynolds) in an open-world video game called Free World. Will Grand Theft Auto and Zelda obsessives want to leave the house to see Deadpool wisecrack his way through a Ready Player One-like scenario they can't play themselves? It could be a tough sell. Still, the mix of snarky gags and goofy adventure worked for both the Jumanji movies in recent years, so it might work here.
(Watch the trailer

respect
United Artists Releasing

Respect

Release date: August 13 in theaters
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Audra McDonald, Marlon Wayans
Director: Liesl Tommy 
Why we're excited: Jennifer Hudson was chosen to star in this Aretha Franklin biopic by Franklin herself, which must account for something. Directed by Liesl Tommy, a renowned theater director making her foray into feature films, we can't wait to see how the Oscar-winning Hudson interprets one of the greatest musicians of all time. 
(Watch the trailer

CODA
Apple TV+

CODA

Release date: August 13 on Apple TV+
Cast: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant
Director: Sian Heder
Why we're excited: Arguably the biggest hit out of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, CODA is a stirring, tearful drama about a teen who is the only hearing member of her family. Ruby (Emilia Jones) acts as interpreter for her close-knit unit in a Massachusetts fishing community, yet conflict arises when she decides to pursue her love of singing, which takes her away from the family business. With wonderful performances, it's sure to be embraced by all who see it.

dont breathe 2
Sony Pictures Releasing

Don't Breathe 2

Release date: August 13 in theaters
Cast: Stephen Lang 
Director: Rodo Sayagues
Why we're excited: 2016's captivity thriller Don't Breathe was one of the more intense and disturbing horror films in recent years. This sequel finds the great Stephen Lang returning as the villainous "Blind Man" and, at least from the plot description, it sounds like he has even more of a central role this time. Director Rodo Sayagues served as a co-writer on the first movie, and the first movie's director Fede Álvarez (also responsible for 2013's brutal Evil Dead remake) is producing and co-wrote the script.

the night house
Searchlight Pictures

The Night House

Release date: August 20 in theaters
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Sarah Goldberg, Stacy Martin, Evan Jonigkeit
Director: David Bruckner (The Ritual)
Why we're excited: This unsettling haunted house tale, which follows a widow (Rebecca Hall) grieving her husband in a sleek home he designed himself, was one of the creepier movies at Sundance back in 2020. Director David Bruckner, who helmed Netflix's sturdy hike-gone-wrong thriller The Ritual, knows how to make a movie like this tick.
(Watch the trailer)

candyman
Universal

Candyman 

Release date: August 27 in theaters
Cast: Yayha Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo
Director: Nia DaCosta (Little Woods)
Why we're excited: Nia DaCosta's spiritual sequel to the 1992 horror classic comes with a script co-written by Jordan Peele and a trailer that will definitely freak you out. (Don't say his name!) This is one of the most anticipated movies of last year that got bumped because of the pandemic, and we remain really pumped to see how DaCosta and company have translated this story about racism and gentrification for the 21st century.
(Watch the trailer)

Reminiscence image
Warner Brothers

Reminiscence

Release date: August 20 in theaters and on HBO Max
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Thandiwe Newton, Daniel Wu
Director: Lisa Joy
Why we're excited: Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy dreamed up this science-fiction thriller about a veteran (Hugh Jackman) who works for a company that allows customers to relive any of their memories. Of course, he falls in love with one of his clients (Rebecca Ferguson) and then discovers she may have a dark past. It sounds like a twist-filled brainteaser in the mold of Eternal Sunshine, Inception, or, you know, Westworld.

he's all that
Netflix

He's All That

Release date: August 27 on Netflix
Cast: Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan, Rachael Leigh Cook, Madison Pettis
Director: Mark Waters (Mean Girls)
Why we're excited: The '90s teen rom-com hit She's All That gets a gender-swapped remake in this new Netflix offering, which features TikTok star Addison Rae in the Freddie Prinze Jr. role of a popular teen tasked with transforming an outcast (Cobra Kai's Tanner Buchanan) into a prom king. The original's star, Rachael Leigh Cook, will have a role and the script comes from She's All That writer R. Lee Flemming Jr., but will it still use that one Sixpence None the Richer song? That's the important question. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Release date: September 3 in theaters
Cast: Simu Liu, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy)
Why we're excited: It's about time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have its first Southeast Asian superhero on the silver screen, and there are few better heroes to pick than Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu, who has the power to duplicate himself into multiple Shang-Chis, as well as the knowledge of nearly every martial art. The Avengers have no idea what's coming.
(Watch the trailer)

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Follow the Thrillist Entertainment editors on Twitter: @ThrillistEnt.