Rundown of every HBO/Cinema release planned for 2021

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A few days ago, Warner Bros made the unprecedented announcement that every single theatrical release of 2021 would simultaneously be released to their streaming service, HBOMax. The fallout of that decision is still unfolding: already, one of the most major directors on this list spoke out against the decision, because apparently no one at Warner Bros. warned any the directors of these movies what they were planning? That’s pretty shitty play. Still, assuming all this isn’t undone, one way or another, we’re getting a lot of new content both in cinemas (wherever they may be open) and streaming, and I thought I’d run down the list.

Mortal Kombat

(Image source: Dread Central)

What with Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, we’re fast entering an era of video game movies that don’t totally suck ass. Which, considering where the bar used to be, is a hell of an accomplishment. Time will tell if the same holds true of this new Mortal Kombat adaptation; I’m a little wary of the fact that the movie’s set to come out in January, and we haven’t even gotten a teaser…

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

…probably not? Look, I was never a huge Mortal Kombat guy, and though video game movies have been getting better, those two examples I gave – Detective Pikachu and Sonic – are more “baseline competent” than they are actually “good” (if you want an example of an actually good video game movie, I’d check out the live action Phoenix Wright movie, or the animated Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, both of which I still consider to be the height of video game adaptations).

The Little Things 

(Image source: DroidJournal)

A Kern County deputy (Denzel Washington) and a Los Angeles detective (Rami Malek) join forces to track down a serial killer (Jared Leto). These types of thrillers are my catnip, and that is one hell of a cast, but the film’s January release date does not spark confidence in its quality. Neither does the director, frankly; John Lee Hancock makes movies that excel in basic functionality, without ever really having a soul, or a point (The Blind Side, Saving Mr Banks, etc.) All of which is to say…

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

With this one, I’d have to wait for early reviews. Because like I said, serial killer thrillers rank among my all-time favorite genres, but that director, paired with that release date, have me concerned (also, Washington and Malek are pretty reliably great, but Jared Leto has been on a significant losing streak for the past couple of years, which also does not bode well for this movie).

Tom & Jerry 

…yeah, this one has “straight to streaming junk” written all over it. Still, I’d be lying if I said the sight of 2D animation mixed with live action didn’t bring me some nostalgic joy. It’s been a while since we’ve had a movie like this, and all I can say is, thank god they didn’t use photorealistic CGI to bring Tom and Jerry to “life.” One imagines someone on this project was looking at the original Sonic design, or the dog from The Call of the Wild, or just all of Cats, and was taking notes.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

See above: even while I was watching the trailer, all I could think was, “This feels like the kind of thing Netflix or Prime would just kind of quietly drop on their platform with zero fanfare.”

The Many Saints of Newark

(Image source: NJ.com)

20 years on, and The Sopranos still stands tall as one of the greatest television programs ever made, with a compelling argument that it is still the best. So any add-on to the story is a tricky proposition, much less a prequel movie. But the existence of El Camino – a sequel to Breaking Bad (the best challenger to The Sporano’s throne) that didn’t diminish the legacy of that show – has me cautiously optimistic. And I’ll just say this; whoever’s idea it was to cast Vera Farmiga as Livia deserves a fucking medal.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

See, now, that’s tricky, because it could be argued that – like with El Camino – a Sopranos spin-off actually makes perfect sense for streaming, given its origins as a prestige TV show. Still, given that The Sopranos essentially jump-started this whole trend of “Peak TV,” and is the whole reason we’re having these debates as to whether or not TV is replacing cinema, or whatever, it might count as a full-circle thing to see it on the big screen.

Reminiscence

(Image source: Variety)

I love me some sci-fi, and I especially love me some vague sci-fi. Some of my favorite films of the past couple of years – Annihilation, Arrival, High Life – I deliberately went into not knowing what they were about. There isn’t an abundance of information out about this film (it’s something to do with dreams, apparently), and frankly, that’s just the way I like it.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Again, early reviews mean a lot here, especially because there’s not that much info out there about it (its director, Lisa Joy, is a co-creator of Westworld who has helmed multiple episodes, for whatever that’s worth). Still, sci-fi spectacle is one of those things that does benefit from the big screen, though obviously that only means so much if the story isn’t up to snuff.

Godzilla Vs Kong

(Image source: Hypebeast)

Godzilla was good, Kong: Skill Island was outstanding, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters was a disaster, though that still means this strange little “extended universe” (ugh) has more hits than misses.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Depends on the kind of spectacle we’re going for here. Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island had the kind of spectacle that you just needed to see on the big screen; their sense of scope and scale is unparalleled in our modern moviegoing landscape, and if I may be so bold, there’s things in both of those movies that put a lot of big budget superhero movies to shame. That being said, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was as sub-superhero movie as they come, a barrage of bad special effects and empty action that just got numbing after a while. Its director, Adam Wingard, could go either way with this; his filmography ranges from great (The Guest) to absolutely dire (Blair Witch, Death Note)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

(Image source: The TeCake)

Speaking of “cinematic universes” that have fuck all to do with superheroes…The Conjuring has quietly been eeking out a strange little corner in our moviegoing landscape, and might actually be the best challenger to the MCU, mainly because, like the MCU, it all happened kind of by accident. The whole thing started with a basic (but very well done) haunted house movie, which slowly got expanded with spinoffs and lore additions, all of which naturally led us to where we are today. It worked, mainly because it didn’t feel forced.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

If it were James Wan, count me in. But this comes from Michael Chaves, whose last film was the worst Conjuring-verse movie, The Curse of La Llorona. No fucking thank you.

In the Heights

(Image source: Variety

Before Hamilton, before Moana, before his guest appearance on B99, there was…In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first ever musical, as well as his first big success on the stage. Which, in light of Hamilton’s god-tier eclipsing of basically all of the theatrical world, it makes sense that they’d go back to his other projects for the big screen treatment.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Fuck yes I would. During the pandemic, the 4th of July Hamilton release was one of the few “cinematic” events, so seeing this in the cinema feels like a natural continuation to that. But even beyond that, or the Lin Maneul angle, I feel like we’re due another great musical movie; Rocketman was one of my favorite movies of last year, and amongst 2020’s other deficiencies, we didn’t get even one good musical this year (I mean, The Prom comes out tomorrow…yeah, we didn’t even get one good musical this year).

Space Jam: A New Legacy

(Image source: Insider)

Of all the movies coming out next year (or at least of all the ones coming to HBOMax), this is the one where if you look at it, you’re most likely to go, “Wait, what? Really? They’re really doing this?” I don’t know how the original Space Jam was received upon its initial release, but it’s found new life in the internet age as prime meme fodder. The question is, will that be enough to justify a sequel?

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

I was never big on the original, even as a meme. It’s one of those things that’s such a bizarre idea, but when you actually sit down and watch it, it’s pretty boring. The last thing we need is a more self-aware version of that, because whenever anyone tries to cash in on the meme potential of their franchise, it almost never goes well.

The Suicide Squad 

(Image source: CBR)

In the recent history of superhero cinema, few failures have stank with quite the ferocity of 2016’s Suicide Squad. You’d think, given the sheer magnitude of that trashfire, that there’d be no way to get hyped about this…but then James Gunn got involved.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Yeah, probably. We’ve been hit hard with superhero fatigue (the one accidental benefit of the COVID shutdown was it finally put a stop to the endless deluge of Marvel movies), and the last time we were feeling this way, Guardians of the Galaxy came along like a shot in the arm. Maybe he can do the same with this. The fact that every promotional exercise has gone out of their way to emphasize that this is a soft-reboot, completely standalone from the last one, certainly doesn’t hurt.

Dune (maybe)

(Image source: IndieWire)

So, as I was getting ready to write this up and upload it this afternoon, Denis Villeneuve became the first(?) director on this list to openly blast the HBOMax deal, penning an op-ed in Variety where he directly calls the plan a “desperate attempt to grab the audience’s attention.” Needless to say, he’s not happy, and while this story is still unfolding, it’s entirely possible that Dune will be pulled from the HBOMax/Cinema lineup.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

The fact is, I’m willing to wait as long as it takes to see this in the theaters. Denis Villeneuve is a masterpiece maker, and his last few forays into the realm of science fiction – Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 – rank as his all time best movies.

Elvis

(Image source: IMDb)

The vibrant and wild auteur behind Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet returns with his first film since the energetic Great Gatsby adaptation, way back in 2013. Biopics of famous musicians are incredibly hit or miss, but with that kind of visionary at the helm…look, it’s already better than Stardust, at least.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

In case I didn’t make it clear above…for that director? Yes. Baz Luhrmann doesn’t always hit the mark, but his credit is very good.

King Richard

(Image source: Popsugar)

Every one in a while, Will Smith will very overtly go for that Oscar. The last time I think it was Concussion (unless we assume Collateral Beauty was an Oscar hopeful flick…which, shit, it might’ve been). In this one, he plays the father of tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams, who was also their coach. Not the approach I’d have assumed they’d take when portraying that story, but then again, biopics usually do their best work when thinking outside the box.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Again, hard to say. I’m usually the guy who rails hardest against blatant Oscarbait, but I’d be lying if I said people’s blind thirst for that sweet, sweet gold statue has never produced works of quality before. And like I said above, this is a potentially interesting angle to take when tackling the sage of the Williams sisters.

The Matrix 4

(Image source: Page Six)

The Matrix continues to hold up even to this day, and its two sequels are really, really interesting failures, which immediately ranks them above most franchise sequels. The ending of part three was pretty definitive, but somehow, the idea of a followup doesn’t seem like an inherently awful idea. Maybe because we all finally want the potential set up in that first movie to be followed through on, or maybe because it’s been a hot minute since the last John Wick film, and we all just want to see Keanu Reeves kicking ass again.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

If nothing else, The Matrix was a spectacle, and there are individual moments in each of the sequels that rank amongst anything in the first movie (it gets a lot of shit, most of it deserved, but the highway chase in Reloaded is one of the finest action scenes ever constructed). The Wachowskis have had some pretty high-profile misses in recent years, but if nothing else, you have to admire their sincerity; Speed Racer and Jupiter Ascending may not be great, but they’re not cynical, which in my book puts them heads and shoulders above most other movies. And if nothing else, I’m interested to see what happens with it’s only Lana at the helm, rather than the two of them.

Judas and the Black Messiah

(Image source: Variety)

Here’s a film I hadn’t heard of until researching this list, but it looks great. It’s a dramatization of an FBI sting operation against the leader of the Black Panther Party in the late ‘60s, a plot which draws instant parallels to BlackKklansman. But by all accounts, this is very much it’s own thing.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Honestly, yeah. There’s some fucking pedigree at work with this one, with Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield in front of the camera, and Shaka King, Ryan Coogler and Steve McQueen’s regular cinematographer Sean Bobbitt at work behind the scenes.

Malignant

(Image source: Movieweb)

So this is what James Wan did instead of The Conjuring 3. I’m reminded of when Bryan Singer hopped off the X-Men trilogy to go do Superman Returns…and hoo boy do I hope it’s better than that (like I hope that Wan doesn’t turn out to be a monster like Singer did). 

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)

Wan is one of our finest modern horror directors, with his grungy thriller Death Sentence being a personal favorite of mine. Even in his weaker movies (Insidious, Aquaman), there’s more than enough vitality and lively propulsion to his filmmaking style to make it always worth watching him in the cinema. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead

(Image source: World of Reel)

Taylor Sheridan is one of the best screenwriters out there (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and an alright director (Wind River). For his followup feature as a director, he’s adapting Michael Koryta’s novel of the same name, in which a teenager finds herself on the run from a pair of assassins after witnessing a murder.

Would I see it in theaters (assuming it’s safe to do so?)
There were two main problems with Wind River: one, it was a movie about the systematic oppression of Native American culture, where both the leads were white (seriously, I like Renner and Olsen a lot, but I’ve yet to hear one good argument as to why Gil Birmingham wasn’t the star of that thing). And two, it just wasn’t very cinematic. The landscape didn’t feel as harsh and desolate as it did in the movies where he was just a writer, and the pacing wasn’t as taut. In his followup feature, he seems to have avoided the first issue entirely, and as for the second…we’ll have to wait and see. If he’s got a better sense of landscape this time around, then yeah, this is a cinema watch for sure.

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