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Summer movies 2021: All the big movies you can see in theaters and on streaming

Summer movies 2021: Black Widow
(Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney)

Summer movies, having a blast — in theaters and on streaming services. After the pandemic decimated last year’s summer movie season, Hollywood is ready to roar and deliver all the thrills, chills and feels we’ve been missing for the past 12 months. 

The summer movies 2021 slate boasts depth and breadth, from superhero sensations to hair-raising horror flicks to family-friendly animated outings. But the best thing about this year’s season is that it gives movie viewers options. They can head to the theater and get the big screen experience, or they can stay at home and watch from the comfort of their couches. 

The 2021 lineup features big stars in mega franchises, some of which were pushed back by the pandemic, like the next Fast and Furious film and Marvel’s Black Widow. But if you’re not into big-budget blockbusters, that’s cool — you can check out the crime drama Stillwater with Matt Damon, the Arthurian reimagining of The Green Knight or the emotional musical In the Heights. 

Here’s our guide to the most notable summer movies of 2021.

Cruella (May 28)

In theaters and streaming on Disney Plus Premier Access
We're not sure how much Cruella will rewrite the history of the titular 101 Dalmatians villain, but the Emma Stone-led film is giving us Maleficent vibes. Yes, Disney's finally telling the backstory of one of its classic baddies, and making her slightly relatable. (Or as relatable as someone who ends up trying to turn adorable puppies into a fur coat can be.) Before Cruella de Vil turned to a life of dognapping, she was an aspiring and mistreated fashion designer, and this movie will show how she got so rotten. — Henry T. Casey

A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)

In theaters
Now that the streets of the country are no longer a series of quiet places themselves thanks to social distancing, the eerie calm of A Quiet Place 2 seems like an actual escape. And so we're excited to get scared silly as Emily (Emily Blunt) and her children Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) continue to walk the dangerous tightrope of life when every loud step could attract a mutated danger. Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join the cast as fellow survivors. — Henry T. Casey

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4)

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
The summer scaries are in full effect in the third movie in the main Conjuring franchise, which brings back Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Like the two previous films, The Devil Made Me Do It is based on a true story; this time, it’s the 1980s case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who stabbed his landlord to death and claimed he was possessed by demonic forces. — Kelly Woo

Vivo (June 4)

Streaming on Netflix
Call this the summer of Lin-Manuel Miranda. His musical In the Heights is hitting theaters (more on that below) and he voices the lead character and wrote the songs for Vivo. The titular kinkajou plays for crowds in Havana with his beloved owner Andrés, who shares Vivo’s passion for music. Then, tragedy strikes and Vivo undertakes the mission of delivering a love song to the famous Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), across the sea in Miami.  — Kelly Woo

In the Heights (June 10)

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
Before he was wowing audiences with Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda co-created In the Heights along with Quara Algeria Hudes. Now the well-regarded musical is coming to screens both big and small, with Hudes in the director’s chair. In the Heights is set in a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in Washington Heights, with bodega owner Usnavi at the heart of the action. Anthony Ramos takes over the part of Usnavi that Miranda played on stage, while Corey Hawkins and Leslie Grace play the young lovers Benny and Nina. Jimmy Smits, Stephanie Beatriz and Daphne Rubin-Vega round out the large ensemble cast of the music, which is already garnering enthusiastic critical buzz. — Philip Michaels

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (June 16)

In theaters
More than just a mouthful, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard looks like a perfect thought-free mix of comedy and action. In this sequel, bodyguard Michael (Ryan Reynolds) thought he was done with helping hitman Darius (Samuel L. Jackson), who was going clean to save his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek). Turns out, he's back in the thick of it again, as Darius got kidnapped, and Sonia needs him to save her man. As you might expect, banter is here in full force. — Henry T. Casey

Luca (June 18)

Streaming on Disney Plus
Remember having friends? Hanging out with them? How fun that used to be? Take a trip back to the Before Times in Pixar’s latest movie, which is a celebration of friendship and its transformative powers. The coming-of-age story is set in Portorosso, a seaside town in Italy, where a young boy named Luca meets Alberto. They immediately become the best of friends, but Luca is keeping a big secret that threatens to break their bond — he’s actually a sea monster from another world just below the water’s surface.  — Kelly Woo

F9 (June 25)

In theaters
It’s all about family, as Dom Toretto faces off against his long-lost brother (John Cena), who’s out for revenge and working for Cipher (Charlize Theron), the heavy from the previous F&F installment. F9: Fast & Furious 9 also sees the return of fan favorite Han (Sung Kang), who was presumed dead after his car blew up waaaayyy back in “The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift.” We’ll be watching just to see how he escaped. The movie’s release has been pushed back twice; most recently, it was scheduled for release on Memorial Day. — Mike Prospero

America: The Motion Picture (June 30)

Streaming on Netflix
If you like irreverent, violent, foul-mouthed animated takes on American history, Netflix is serving up this bit of insanity from the makers of Archer. It feels like the next-gen cousin to Team America. A buff George Washington (voiced by Channing Tatum) wields a chainsaw, Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn) has jet-blaster boots and Paul Revere (Bobby Moynihan) is a robo-centaur. Like the official synopsis declares, “These are not your father’s Founding… uh, Fathers.”  — Kelly Woo

Fear Street trilogy (July 2)

Streaming on Netflix
R.L. Stine’s popular Fear Street books scared you as a kid; now, Netflix’s three film adaptations are here to frighten you as a grown-up. The trilogy chronicles a string of murders across 300 years in the town of Shadyside. Fear Street Part One: 1994 drops July 2, while Part Two: 1978 follows July 8 and Part Three: 1666 wraps up the scary saga on July 16. The Fear Street movies really are for adults, since they’re rated R. And since they’re streaming on Netflix, you can easily cower under the covers.  — Kelly Woo

The Tomorrow War (July 2)

Streaming on Amazon Prime Video
Amazon says you don't need to go back to the multiplex this summer — and it's using a Marvel hero for its argument. The Tomorrow War, which has been fighting through delay after delay, sees Chris Pratt star as Dan Forester, an everyman tackling a larger than life challenge: the end of the world. When time travelers from 2051 come back to warn us that an alien species is coming to wreck shop, Forester has to work with his estranged father (played by J.K. Simmons) to save us all. –- Henry T. Casey

The Forever Purge (July 2)

In theaters
This Independence Day will see a grand finale of a fireworks show from The Purge franchise. The fifth and final movie follows up on the events of The Purge: Election Year and its cancellation of the annual event. But some rogue actors aren’t quite following the new rules, as a Mexican couple discovers while fleeing from a drug cartel. They wind up stranded on a ranch in Texas, where a group of outsiders is continuing their own Purge and making America not-so-great.  — Kelly Woo

Black Widow (July 9)

In theaters and streaming on Disney Plus Premier Access
Natasha Romanov has been waiting for this spotlight even longer than we've been waiting to go back to the theaters. Yes, between her and Hawkeye, 2021 is the year where Marvel Studios is finally giving the rest of the original MCU Avengers their own films. In Black Widow, Natty's going home to Russia to clear up unresolved issues, and we will meet the rest of her family, played by David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh. — Henry T. Casey

Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 16)

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
Everybody get up, it's time to slam now, but not actually in outer space. Space Jam 2: A New Legacy takes place in cyberspace, as that's where LeBron James has to travel (how fast does an NBA MVP upload?) to save his son. And this time we don't have Monstars, but the technological evils of Al-G Rhythm (get it, algorithm?) — played by Don Cheadle. Hopefully this sequel is as fun as the original, as it's mostly earned headlines for a weak controversy around the redesign of Lola Bunny and a scene involving Pepe LePew's terrible courtship habits. – Henry T. Casey

Old (July 23)

In theaters
Twist-master M. Night Shyamalan is back to scare the living daylights out of us with this thriller about the horror that affects us all — getting old. Gael García Bernal and Vicky Krieps star as a couple who take their young family on vacation to a secluded beach. What looks like a gorgeous dream of a day turns into a nightmare, as they begin to rapidly age by the hour. Their kids grow up; their daughter even becomes pregnant. And no amount of sunscreen can stop their skin from shriveling, their bodies changing and their minds from deteriorating.  — Kelly Woo

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (July 23)

In theaters
Eight years have passed since a G.I. Joe movie hit theaters. In the era of “wring every last drop out of popular IP, it seems strange that Hasbro hasn’t been able to do that with its line of action figures. They’re taking another swing with a reboot focused on the fan-favorite character Snake Eyes (Henry Golding). The story unearths the origins of the mysterious, katana-wielding fighter trained by an ancient Japanese ninja clan called the Arashikage. And G.I. Joe fans will finally get the answer to a long-asked question: What is Snake Eyes’ real name?  — Kelly Woo

Stillwater (July 30)

In theaters
Matt Damon is taking a page from Liam Neeson and honing a very particular set of skills as an oil worker dad whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) is arrested while studying in France for killing her girlfriend. Remember the Amanda Knox case? Looks like Damon is ripping from those headlines, but with a dad-on-a-mission angle. He moves to France to contend with the byzantine legal system and must decide how far he’s willing to go to clear his daughter’s name.  — Kelly Woo

Jungle Cruise (July 30)

In theaters and streaming on Disney Plus Premier Access
Disney's found its latest Pirates of the Caribbean. No, not another Johnny Depp movie — an action adventure movie that is based on an amusement park right. And we're more than ready to be amused, as Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, a tandem we didn't know we needed until right now. Most interesting, though, is Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Friday Night Lights) being cast as the villain of the movie, as Plemons has been on a hot streak of amazing performances as of late. Plemons vs The Rock is a fight we never expected. — Henry T. Casey

The Green Knight (July 30) 

In theaters
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is one of those stories that's so good, you can't help but wonder why it doesn't get adapted for the silver screen more often. This medieval poem recounts the exploits of Arthurian Knight Sir Gawain. In it, Gawain travels across England to confront the boastful Green Knight, whose magical powers make him a dangerous foe. In The Green Knight from director David Lowery, Dev Patel will play the titular role, with Alicia Vikander and Joel Edgerton in the supporting cast. We don't actually know much about the film beyond that, save that it's produced by A24, which also produced cult favorites such as Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse and Lady Bird. — Marshall Honorof

The Suicide Squad (August 6)

In theaters and streaming on HBO Max
Director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) is great at making us care about unknown comic book characters, so we're excited for The Suicide Squad to erase memories of the 2016 David Ayers version. Made when he was on a break from working at Marvel, The Suicide Squad has basically story as the previous installment: a group of failed villains is brought in to do tasks for the government. This time, though, we've got the likes of Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Peacemaker (John Cena) and King Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) making us laugh. Of course, DCEU mainstay Harley Quinn is still played by Margot Robie. — Henry T. Casey

Free Guy (August 13) 

In theaters
Take one part Wreck-It-Ralph and add one part Matrix, and what do you get? Ryan Reynolds as Guy, an every-man who won't be the non-playable character in a video game reality any longer. One day, he's a bank teller, the next he gets special glasses that unlock the super-hero tricks that everyone around him has been living with for his whole life. If that sounds too simple, then get ready for Taika Waiti as the mastermind behind it all, looking to crush Guy. We hope Guy has a few 1-UPs to get through this. -- Henry T. Casey

Respect (August 13)

In theaters
Jennifer Hudson as Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin? Yes, please. This film got the blessing of Franklin herself before she died in 2018 (unlike NatGeo’s Genius season about the singer). Respect doesn’t break any biopic boundaries, but who cares when the cast is this good? Forest Whitaker and Audra McDonald play Aretha’s parents, while Marlon Wayans, Titus Burgess, Marc Maron and Mary J. Freakin’ Blige have supporting roles. And of course, the entire project is anchored by Oscar winner Hudson. The Queen gave her approval and that’s good enough for us.  — Kelly Woo

Candyman (August 27)

In theaters
Candyman, you had us at Jordan Peele and Nia DaCosta. Peele co-wrote the script for this “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 slasher film, while DaCosta directs ahead of her gig helming The Marvels. If you don’t quite recall the Candyman urban legend, it goes like this: Say his name in the mirror five times and he’ll appear and kill the summoner. In the new flick, a struggling artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) starts to lose his grip on reality after learning of the true story behind myth.  — Kelly Woo