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41 Must-See New Movies to See This Summer Season

From theatrical releases to VOD and streaming offerings, the big-time summer movie is back.

Leah Lu

“Summer of Soul” (July 2, in theaters and streaming on Hulu)

Making the jump from drummer extraordinaire to first-time feature film director, Amir “Questlove” Thompson found a way to condense 45 hours of previously unseen 50-year-old footage, mid-pandemic, into a cohesive, jubilant and culturally relevant two-hour celebration of Black music’s role in the social revolution of the late 1960s. In telling the story of the Harlem Cultural Festival, Thompson could have easily just produced “Summer of Soul” as a straightforward concert film, and it still would have satisfied audiences in awe of remarkable unseen footage from the landmark concert series that featured dazzling performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, the Staples Singers, 5th Dimension, and many more hitmakers of the day. But the Harlem Cultural Festival was about a lot more than music.

Thompson digs into history to reveal something important about each musician or group, fluidly editing relevant anecdotes into their stage performances. And against the backdrop of police brutality, the Vietnam War and political unrest — including the assassinations of Malcom X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — the festival was refuge for Black people from all walks of life, illustrating the healing power of music. It was a chance to nurse physical and psychological wounds, and a way to instill hope and underscore the need for Black pride and unity — all purposes that “Summer of Soul” could also readily serve in the present. Welcome to the party movie of the summer.  —TO

“The Tomorrow War” (July 2, streaming on Amazon Prime Video)

Chris Pratt in "The Tomorrow War"

“The Tomorrow War”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios has never delivered a movie quite like this: a full-on summer blockbuster with a nine-figure budget to be released on Prime Video. Chris Pratt stars as a man of our time who’s recruited by soldiers from 30 years in the future to help in Earth’s fight against an alien invasion. Not much more about the plot than that is known, but Pratt is joined by Betty Gilpin, Yvonne Strahovski, and J.K. Simmons, in what sounds like kind of a cross between “La Jetée” and “The Edge of Tomorrow.”

Chris McKay, making his live-action debut after helming “The LEGO Batman Movie” (and directing reshoots on “Dolittle”), serves as director on the project, which began with Paramount and was set for a July 16 release. Then, Paramount decided to sell it to a streamer — in this case Amazon — with a $200 million price tag, and the release was moved forward to July 2. —CB

“Black Widow” (July 9, in theaters and streaming on Disney+)

"Black Widow"

“Black Widow”

Disney

One of the most heavily anticipated superhero movies of last year finally seems ready to hit theaters more than a year after its original release date was delayed. The 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is only the second to revolve around a woman superhero, following the Brie Larson-led “Captain Marvel,” and it seems poised to usher in a new era in MCU entertainment, albeit with a familiar face: Scarlett Johannson has been playing the titular S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and savvy KGB assassin since her first MCU appearance in 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” Now, she’ll (presumably) hand off the baton to Florence Pugh, who also stars in the film.

Directed by Cate Shortland, “Black Widow” is set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and finds Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow on the lam and heading to Russia to confront her past. The cast also includes Rachel Weisz, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, and Ray Winstone. —JD

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” (July 16, in theaters and streaming on HBO Max)

Space Jam: A New Legacy

“Space Jam: A New Legacy”

YouTube/screenshot

“Space Jam,” the ‘90s animated charmer, drew on Michael Jordan’s real-life experiences (including his retirement from basketball and short-lived pivot to baseball) for a cosmic tale of how Jordan finds himself flung into outer space to help the Looney Tunes characters battle aliens on the court. A follow-up with another top athlete always seemed inevitable, and apparently there were stabs at developing sequels focused on Tiger Woods and Jeff Gordon, among others. But for a long time, LeBron James has seemed like the most natural star for a next iteration of “Space Jam,” and this particular film has been in the works since at least 2014.

Terence Nance was first directing the project, until Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man”) took over in 2019. The result, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” stars King James as a version of himself who’s frustrated that his son prefers videogame design to playing basketball. When they’re both caught in a Matrix-like computer network (overseen by a villainous Don Cheadle) they have to team up with the Looney Tunes to win their way out by playing a little b-ball. And the skill sets of both father and son come into play. Fingers crossed that some of the original meta magic of “Space Jam” can translate into appeal for a new generation. —CB

“Old” (July 23, in theaters)

It’s just a sunny day at a secluded beach, when suddenly the kids notice their swimsuits are a little too tight. And when you see your six-year-old again after he went off to play alone for a bit, he’s suddenly a teenager. “Old,” the latest thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, and his first he didn’t shoot at least partly in Philadelphia, imagines what happens if you and your family are suddenly afflicted with rapid aging — aging so fast that your entire life would be reduced to a single day.

Confronting this crisis are a longtime married couple played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps (inspired casting). Thomasin McKenzie, Eliza Scanlen, and Alex Wolff play their children, and one wonders if a cast that also includes 76-year-old Kathleen Chalfant means that other actors may be stepping in for these characters as they age. That’s total speculation, though, because, as is typical for Shyamalan, details around the film are scarce. But we do know that he shot the film entirely in the Dominican Republic in 2020 after the pandemic had already hit the world with full force. “Old” could be a perfect vehicle for Shyamalan’s affinity for marrying a high-concept plot with high emotionality. —CB

“The Green Knight”

A24

“The Green Knight” (July 30, in theaters)

The Arthurian epic from David Lowery feels almost like a reward for getting this far through the pandemic. The first trailer for his adaptation of the medieval legend about Sir Gawain (Dev Patel), the nephew of King Arthur (Sean Harris), proving his mettle via a beheading contest with the title warrior, debuted on February 13, 2020. A SXSW premiere was set to follow. That obviously never happened, and, A24, resolutely committed to a theatrical release, ended up pushing it all the way to July 30, 2021.

That first trailer was haunting and mysterious in a way that medieval-set films haven’t been in a long time. There was only a glimpse of the Green Knight (Ralph Ineson, under plant-like prosthetics) and just a cryptic tease of the beheading conceit (via puppets), but the atmosphere was otherworldly yet somehow relatable: Who doesn’t feel the need to prove themselves, even if it’s not via a beheading contest? Consider this a Dark Ages riff on impostor syndrome. And Lowery, who’s shown an ability to make even the more out-there concepts (a dragon living in the woods, a ghost haunting his loved one, a serial bank robber unable to give up his pastime) emotionally authentic, is the perfect director to bring this arcane text into the 21st century. —CB

“Stillwater” (July 30, in theaters)

Since “Spotlight” won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay in 2016, writer-director Tom McCarthy has turned his attention to Disney features with the well-regarded “Christopher Robin” (which he co-wrote) and “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made” (which he directed and co-wrote).

His next film, “Stillwater,” stars Matt Damon as an American oil-rig laborer who travels to France to help exonerate his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin), in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Directing from a script he co-wrote with Cesar winner Thomas Bidegain (“Rust and Bone”), Cesar nominee Noé Debré (“Dheepan”), and “All Good Things” co-writer Marcus Hinchey, “Stillwater” marks McCarthy’s promising return to adult fare. In re-teaming with “Spotlight” producer Participant, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi, and editor Tom McArdle, the drama has all the right ingredients to be an awards contender. —CL

“The Suicide Squad” (August 6, in theaters and streaming on HBO Max)

"The Suicide Squad"

“The Suicide Squad”

Warner Bros.

Just a few months after the release of Zack Snyder’s much-anticipated cut of “Justice League” comes another installment of superhero-movie director mythos rivaling that of their characters. DC immediately handed the keys to “The Suicide Squad” over to James Gunn after a conservative campaign in 2018 led Disney to fire Marvel-stalwart Gunn from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.” Disney backtracked and re-hired Gunn, and even let him finish his DCEU film before heading back to Marvel.

With a stacked ensemble led by Margot Robbie and her colorful Harley Quinn and the creative freedom of an R rating, Gunn’s installment could offer excitement that rivals the drama around the film’s production and give him a strong start before he heads back to Marvel when production starts on “Guardians” later this year. —CL

“CODA” (August 13, in theaters and streaming on AppleTV+)

"Coda"

“CODA”

Sundance

Siân Heder’s acclaimed family drama broke all manner of records when it debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, from its $25 million sale (the biggest in the fest’s history) to snagging a gob-smacking awards sweep (it is the first movie to win four prizes in the U.S. Dramatic Competition section: Audience Award, Directing Award, Grand Jury Prize, and Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble). Can it keep up the momentum for its planned summer rollout?

We expect it will, bolstered by its big buzz and its unique twist on coming-of-age tropes. The film follows breakout Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, the child of deaf adults (the “CODA” of its name), and what “CODA” may lack in storytelling originality it more than makes up for with other touches of ingenuity. Chief among them is that it’s a film that focuses on a deaf family and treats their woes as being just as worthy — and relatable — as innumerable other stories that, at least, initially feel just like it. Heder makes a sterling argument for more films like “CODA” — which is to say, movies that focus on under-served characters and performers (all of Heder’s deaf characters are played by deaf actors, the film is subtitled) that still contain massive appeal for everyone. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works its formula well, even as it breaks new ground. —KE

“Respect” (August 13, in theaters)

Pushed out of the 2020 Oscar season and into summer 2021, Liesl Tommy’s Aretha Franklin biopic “Respect” finally lands in theaters this summer. Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson delivers what will surely be a show-stopping performance as the Queen of Soul, charting the highs and lows of her vivid life and career.

Tommy is jumping to the feature side for the first time after helming TV episodes including on “The Walking Dead,” “Queen Sugar,” and “Insecure.” The film’s cast also includes Forest Whitaker as her father C.L. Franklin, Audra McDonald as her mother Barbara Franklin, Marlon Wayans as Aretha Franklin’s first husband Ted White, Mary J. Blige as musician and singer Dinah Washington, Gilbert Glenn Brown as Martin Luther King Jr., Marc Maron as music journalist and producer Jerry Wexler, and Tituss Burgess as Reverend Dr. James Cleveland. —RL

“Cryptozoo” (August 20, in theaters and on demand)

“Cryptozoo”

“Cryptozoo,” the dazzling animated feature from cartoonist Dash Shaw, takes place in the past and feels like it hails from another dimension. At the same time, in its hectic blend of a colorful, imaginative universe and evil forces stacked against it, the movie has a unique connection to the modern era. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the opening minutes, when a pair of ‘60s-era hippies (voiced by Louisa Krause and Michael Cera) wander the woods, and one shares a dreams of storming the Capitol to reboot society. His partner is skeptical. “Utopias never work out,” she says.

In Shaw’s daring, visionary work — a cluttered symphony of erratic line drawings, psychedelic colors, and recycled genre tropes galore — that sentiment looms large. “Cryptozoo” is all over the place, but it’s a total joy to immerse in Shaw’s expansive look at conflicting worldviews and environmentalist feats, bound together in a delightful consolidation of storytelling conventions that suggests “Yellow Submarine” by way of “Jurassic Park,” with a dose of “Tomb Raider” for good measure. It’s an overwhelming combination loaded with giddy, infectious creativity at every turn. Four years after his John Hughes-inspired teen disaster movie “My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea,” Shaw has cemented his place as one of the most exciting new voices in animation. —EK

“The Night House” (August 20, in theaters)

David Bruckner’s shudderingly intense and sadistically loud horror movie “The Night House” is a grief-stricken portrait of unraveling that begins with a small, empty dinghy bobbing against a dock on the shores of an idyllic New York lake. A path leads up to the beautiful home that Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) built for his wife a few years back — a house that has started to seem considerably bigger in the days since its architect took that boat out into the water one morning and shot himself in the head.

An early shock in broad daylight makes it clear that “The Night House” will never let you drop your guard, and Beth’s (Rebecca Hall) violent dreams condition you to stiffen your spine every time she falls asleep. All told, Bruckner is eager to play by his own rules, and giddy to break the ones you know. This is psychological horror without the bumper lanes, as the jump-scares in “The Night House” often arrive without any warning whatsoever (as opposed to the standard approach of dropping the music — and cueing the audience — in order for the BANG! to disturb a more perfect silence). Whereas most of this movie’s ilk stick to a mutually agreeable contract with their audience stipulating that all scares will adhere to a “quiet-loud-quiet” rhythm that gives viewers a sense of control over even the most shocking moments, “The Night House” makes that promise with its fingers crossed. —DE

“Candyman” (August 27, in theaters)

Candyman

A still from the animated teaser for Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman”

Nia DiCasta/Twitter

Director Nia DaCosta’s first studio picture is a contemporary take on the blood-chilling urban legend that audiences were first introduced to in the 1992 slasher movie starring Tony Todd as the title character: “Candyman.” DaCosta’s film takes place a decade after the last of the Cabrini towers were torn down, as visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his partner, gallery director Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), move into a luxury loft condo in Cabrini, now totally gentrified.

With Anthony’s painting career stalling, a long-time Cabrini-Green resident (Colman Domingo) exposes him to the tragic nature of the true story behind Candyman. Anxious to maintain his status in the Chicago art world, Anthony begins to explore these macabre details in his paintings, unknowingly opening a door that unleashes a terrifying wave of violence, putting him on course with destiny. Is Anthony the next Candyman, or at least a descendant of the original? The trailer teases the possibility of either. —TO

“The Beatles: Get Back” (August 27, in theaters)

For his second documentary, legendary director Peter Jackson pulled from 56 hours of never-before-seen footage of The Beatles in the studio in 1969. The Disney-backed project promises candid and intimate footage of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr laying down the original tracks of many of their most famous songs. Jackson has been deep into editing the film throughout the pandemic, and knowing how ambitious he is — both on “The Lord of the Rings” and his acclaimed WWI documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” — “Get Back” has serious potential to delivery a fresh take on the Beatles that brings their musical genius to light in a whole new way. —JD

As new movies open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the safety precautions provided by CDC and health authorities. Additionally, our coverage will provide alternative viewing options whenever they are available.

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