Jamillah Ali (L) and Nadia Ali, both of Nevada, carry snacks as they head to an auditorium to see the movie “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” at AMC Town Square 18 on August 20, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
In a normal year the list of movies destined for cinemas would be set in stone. At best, the 2021 slate is written in sand.
The coronavirus pandemic has created a difficult landscape for studios. Rising case numbers are keeping moviegoers at home and closing cinemas around the country. This has lead companies to make hard decisions about which movies to keep on the calendar and which to push.
While Warner Bros. has committed to placing its films in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day, other studios are working with cinemas to compromise on theatrical windows. Comcast-owned Universal has brokered deals to allow it to bring its movies to premium video on-demand sooner than previous years.
Disney, on the other hand, has tried a number of different strategies from regular releases to launching films on its streaming service. It has also decided to try a day-and-date release of one of its films, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which is slated for a March release.
So far in January, a few films have maneuvered around the calendar. Most notably, Sony’s “Morbius” went from a March release to one in October. As the pandemic rages on, there are fears that more films could shift to new days.
As of publication, here is the list of the most anticipated movies on the 2021 calendar and how to watch them.
Feb. 26: “Tom and Jerry”
“Tom and Jerry” is a movie coming from Warner Bros. that will debut in theaters and HBO Max on Feb. 26. The film is a combination of live-action and animation, as the titular characters of Tom and Jerry appear as animated creatures.
After being kicked out of their house, Tom and Jerry call a truce and decide to go their separates ways. The two later cross paths in New York City, where Jerry has taken up residence in a fancy hotel. He has caused all sorts of trouble for the staff and they want him gone before an important wedding is due to take place at the hotel.
Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) is tasked by wealthy hotel manager Mr. DuBros (Rob Delaney) to get rid of the mouse. She hires Tom the cat to catch Jerry, reigniting their slapstick antics. Michael Pena, Ken Jeong and Colin Jost round out the rest of the live-action cast.
March 5: “Raya and the Last Dragon”
Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” will debut in theaters on March 5. That same day it will be available for purchase through the Disney+ streaming service for $30.
The animated film takes place in Kumandra, a place where humans and dragons once lived together in harmony. However, when sinister monsters known as the Druun threatened the land, the dragons sacrificed themselves to save humanity. 500 years later, the Druun have returned. A lone warrior named Raya has been tasked with tracking down the last dragon in order to stop these creatures for good.
Kelly Marie Tran voices Raya and Awkwafina is Sisu, a water dragon who can transform into a human. Sisu is the last dragon in existence.
March 5: “Chaos Walking”
After several delays — some related to the pandemic and some to deal with reshoots — “Chaos Walking” is finally set to debut in theaters on March 5.
In the not-too-distant future, Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) discovers Viola (Daisy Ridley), a mysterious girl who crash landed on the plant. On this planet all women have disappeared and all of the men are afflicted by “the Noise,” a force that puts all their thoughts on display.
Viola’s life is threatened and Todd vows to protect her, sending them on a journey that uncovers the planet’s dark secrets.
Mads Mikkelsen, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas and David Oyelowo are also part of the cast.
March 12: “The King’s Man”
The third film from the “Kingsman” franchise arrives on March 12 in cinemas. The spinoff takes place decades before Eggsy is indoctrinated into the secret organization.
The film centers around a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds, who have gathered to plot a war that will wipe out millions. One man and his protege must act quickly to stop them.
“The King’s Man” has a star-studded cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Bruhl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
March 26: “Godzilla v. Kong”
Originally slated for May, “Godzilla v. Kong” will now arrive on HBO Max and in theaters on March 26. The film takes place after the events of “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” and features an epic showdown between Godzilla and the mighty Kong.
Meanwhile, Monarch, a secret scientific organization, embarks on a mission that unearths clues to the titans’ origins.
April 2: “No Time to Die”
Five years after the capture of Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), James Bond (Daniel Craig) has left active service. Bond is approached by a friend from the CIA who asks him to help search for a missing scientist. When Bond discovers that the scientist has been abducted, he is sent on a path that leads to a villain whose schemes could see the death of millions.
Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Ralph Fiennes and Ana de Armas round out the cast.
The film will debut in theaters on April 2.
Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in “No Time To Die.”
April 2: “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”
The second “Peter Rabbit” arrives in theaters on April 2. The film follows up with Bea (Rose Byrne) and Thomas (Domhnall Gleeson) and their rambunctious rabbits. Peter (James Corden) can’t shake his mischievous ways, however, and adventures outside the garden.
Peter finds himself in a world where mischief is accepted, but when his family risks everything to come looking for him, he needs to decide what kind of bunny he wants to be.
April 16: “Mortal Kombat”
“Mortal Kombat,” a film based on the iconic video game franchise, is set to hit theaters and arrive on HBO Max on April 16. The film serves as a reboot of the previous “Mortal Kombat” films.
Mortal Kombat is a intergalactic tournament of ancient martial arts. The film seems to follow Shaolin Monk Liu Kang from Earth, who is invited as a competitor.
“Mortal Kombat” stars Ludi Lin, Joe Taslim, Tadanobu Asano, Jessica McNamee, Mehcad Brooks, Josh Lawson, Lewis Tan, Chin Han, and Hiroyuki Sanada.
April 23: “A Quiet Place II”
Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe return as the Abbott family. After the death of patriarch Lee (John Krasinski), the family must leave their home and face the terrors of the outside world, fighting for their survival in silence.
They quickly realize that the creatures that hunt by sound aren’t the only threats in their world.
The film is set to debut in theaters on April 23.
May 7: “Black Widow”
After the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” in which the Avengers become fractured, Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, finds herself alone and facing a dangerous conspiracy with ties to her past.
Natasha reunites with her found family played by Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz and battles against a villain called Taskmaster.
Taskmaster is a character that studies his opponents’ fighting style in order to mimic their strategies and use their own moves against them. From the trailer, it is apparent that he’s already picked up a few techniques used by Avengers like Iron Man, Captain America, the Winter Soldier and Spider-Man.
The film arrives in cinemas on May 7.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, in Marvel’s “Black Widow.”
Disney | Marvel
May 21: “Free Guy”
In an open world video game called “Free City,” Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is a non-player character (NPC) that works as a bank teller. However, Guy becomes aware that his world is a video game after a program developed by programmers Milly (Jodie Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) is inserted into the game by publisher Antoine (Taika Waititi).
Guy takes steps to make himself the hero, creating a race against time to save the game before the developers can shut it down.
“Free Guy” arrives in theaters on May 21.
May 28: “F9”
The ninth installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise arrives on May 28. In this film, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family must face Dominic’s younger brother Jakob (John Cena), who is working with their old enemy Cipher (Charlize Theron).
Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel and Sung Kang are all set to return.
May 28: “Cruella”
Ever wonder how Cruella de Vil became the iconic villain of “101 Dalmations?” The Disney live-action film “Cruella” explores just that.
Set in 1970s London, young fashion designer Estella de Vil (Emma Stone) becomes obsessed with fur, particularly the fur of Dalmatians. The film delves into how she becomes the ruthless and terrifying villain we all know.
Emma Thompson also stars in the film which debuts on May 28.
June 11: “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”
After being evicted from their home, a single mom and her two children move to a farm in Oklahoma that they inherited from their late grandfather. When the town experiences a series of unexplained earthquakes, the children discover the family’s link to the original Ghostbusters.
The film debuts on June 11 and features some familiar faces like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver as well as some newcomers to the franchise like Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard and Paul Rudd.
Still from Sony’s “Ghostbusters Afterlife.”
June 18: “Luca”
Pixar’s next film arrives on June 18 and explores a beautiful seasonal town on the Italian Riviera.
“Luca” is a coming-of-age story about a young boy and his adventures with his new best friend Alberto. All that fun is threatened when a secret is revealed: Alberto is a sea monster from another world living just below the water’s surface.
June 18: “In the Heights”
Based on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical, “In the Heights,” the film follows a bodega owner named Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) who saves every penny and dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, where his family is from.
The film weaves together the lives of several others living in the Washington Heights neighborhood, exploring themes of gentrification and cultural identity through song.
The film arrives in theaters and on HBO Max on June 18.
June 25: “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”
In the sequel to 2018’s “Venom,” Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is an investigative journalist who is the host of an alien symbiote known as Venom. He is set to face off against psychotic serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson), who has become the host of another alien symbiote known as Carnage.
Michelle Williams returns as Eddie’s ex-fiance Anne and Naomie Harris portrays Shriek, Kasady’s love interest. The film arrives in theaters on June 25.
July 2: “Top Gun: Maverick”
Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer return in the sequel to “Top Gun,” as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and Tom “Iceman” Kazansky.
The film follows Cruise’s Maverick, who continues to push the envelope after years of service as one of the Navy’s top aviators. He must confront the past while training a new squad for a dangerous mission, one that demands the ultimate sacrifice.
The film arrives in theaters on July 2.
July 2: “Minions: Rise of Gru”
In the heart of the 1970s, a 12-year-old genius named Felonius Gru is growing up in the suburbs. A fanboy of a super villain group known as the Vicious 6, Gru hatches a plan to become evil enough to join them.
After the Vicious 6 fire their leader, Gru interviews to become their newest member. However, things go south after Gru steals a precious object with the help of his little yellow minions. After becoming the mortal enemy of the Vicious 6, Gru must turn to the group’s former leader for guidance.
The animated film hits theaters on July 2.
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is the sequel to the 2015 film, “Minions,” and spin-off/prequel to the main “Despicable Me” film series.
July 9: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
Marvel is set to introduce a new hero in July, Shang-Chi, one of the greatest martial artists in the world played by Simu Liu.
The film follows Shang-Chi after he is drawn into the clandestine Ten Rings organization. There he is forced to confront his past, which he thought he had left behind.
Awkwafina stars as Shang-Chi’s best friend Katy.
July 16: “Uncharted”
Based on the “Uncharted” video game series, the Tom Holland-led action-adventure film follows Nathan Drake, a young fortune hunter who claims to be the descendant of the famed English explorer Sir Francis Drake.
In the film, due in theaters July 16, Nathan teams up with Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a fellow fortune hunter, mentor and father figure, after finding the whereabouts of El Dorado, the fabled South American city of gold.
July 16: “Space Jam: A New Legacy”
The long-awaited follow-up to 1996’s “Space Jam” arrives on HBO Max and in theaters on July 16.
The film features LeBron James as himself. When LeBron and his son Bronny are trapped in a virtual space by a rogue algorithm named AI-G Rhythm (Don Cheadle), LeBron must get them home safely by leading a team of Looney Toons to victory over the evil AI’s digitized champions on the basketball court.
July 30: “Jungle Cruise”
After the box office success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, Disney has used its iconic Jungle Cruise ride as inspiration for a movie starring Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson.
Set in the early 20th century, a riverboat captain named Frank (Johnson) takes a scientist (Blunt) and her brother (Jack Whitehall) on a mission into the jungle to find the Tree of Life. Along their journey, the trio must fight dangerous wild animals and a competing German expedition.
The film arrives in theaters on July 30.
Aug. 6: “The Suicide Squad”
A sequel to “Suicide Squad,” “The Suicide Squad” follows imprisoned convicts from Task Force X as they are sent on a new mission.
These prisoners, iconic villains from DC lore, must destroy Jotunheim, a Nazi-era prison and laboratory that held political prisoners and conducted experimentations. Of course, with crazed criminals, hijinks ensue as they seek to fulfill their mission and reduce time from their jail sentences.
The film has a packed cast that includes Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Peter Capaldi, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker.
Sept. 17: “The Boss Baby: Family Business”
The sequel to “The Boss Baby” finds Theodore Templeton and his brother estranged. The pair agree to take a magical formula that will turn them into babies for 48 hours so that they can go undercover to prevent an evil genius from turning fellow toddlers into monstrous brats.
The film arrives in theaters on Sept. 17.
Sept. 17: “Death on the Nile”
Kenneth Branagh returns as famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in “Death on the Nile,” due in theaters Sept. 17.
When a death occurs on the S.S. Karnak, Poirot must identify which of the passengers is the killer before they strike again. The film also stars Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer.
Oct. 1: “Dune”
Based on the novel by Frank Herbert, “Dune” is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve that will arrive in theaters and on HBO Max on Oct. 1.
In the distant future, Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) is entrusted with the protection of the most valuable element in the galaxy, a drug called “the spice,” which extends human life and provides accelerated levels of thought.
However, a bitter betrayal sends Atreides’ son Paul (Timothee Chalamet) and his mother Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) to seek out the Fremen, natives of the planet Arrakis who live deep in the desert.
The film also stars Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa and Javier Bardem.
Oct. 8: “Morbius”
Suffering from a rare blood disease, Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) tries a dangerous cure that afflicts him with a form a vampirism.
The Marvel film produced by Sony is set to hit theaters on Oct. 8 and features a cast comprised of Matt Smith, Adria Arjona, Jared Harris and Tyrese Gibson. Additionally, Michael Keaton, who portrayed Adrian Toomes, aka Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” is set to appear in the film. Although it has not been confirmed if he is reprising his role as Toomes.
Oct. 15: “Halloween Kills”
Set on Halloween 2018, “Halloween Kills” is the next installment in the “Halloween” franchise. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, who must team up with her family and work with old allies to form a mob against Michael Myers, who is still loose in Haddonfield.
The film arrives in theaters on Oct. 15.
A scene for the movie Halloween released in 2018.
Source: Universal Studios
Nov. 5: “Eternals”
After an unexpected tragedy following the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” the Eternals, an immortal race of aliens that have secretly lived on Earth for more than 7,000 years must reunite to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
It stars an ensemble cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Kit Harington, Gemma Chan, and Barry Keoghan.
The film will be released in cinemas on Nov. 5.
Nov. 24: “Encanto”
Little is known about Disney’s Thanksgiving film offering “Encanto.” Teased in December, the film appears to center around a Colombian girl who grows up as the only non-magical member of her family.
Disney has not announced a voice cast yet. The film arrives in cinemas on Nov. 24.
Dec. 10: “West Side Story”
Directed by Steven Spielberg, “West Side Story” is a filmed adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical of the same name.
Modeled after Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the film centers around teenagers Tony and Maria, who fall in love despite having affiliations with rival street gangs.
Ansel Elgort portrays Tony and Rachel Zegler stars as Maria. The film is set to hit the big screen on Dec. 10.
Dec. 17: “Spider-Man 3”
Little is known about the plot of Tom Holland’s third standalone Spider-Man film, which is due in theaters just ahead of the holidays.
In addition to the return of Zendaya as MJ, it has also been confirmed that Jamie Foxx will return as Electro, from “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which featured Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man.
Alfred Molina, who portrayed Doctor Octopus during Tobey McGuire’s turn as the famed webslinger, is also confirmed as appearing in the film. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange will also appear.
There has been speculation that other characters from the MCU, or even from the previous iterations of Spider-Man, will join the cast, but Disney has not confirmed these rumors.
Tom Holland reprises his role as Peter Parker / Spider-Man in Sony’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
Dec. 22: “Matrix 4”
The fourth installment in the “Matrix” franchise will hit theaters on Dec. 22. Little is known about the plot of the film, but it has been confirmed that Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith will return in their previous roles as Neo, Trinity and Niobe.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC.