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44 Must-See New Movies to Catch This Fall Season

Release dates might still remain in flux, but after a year of pushed-back features, the 2021 fall movie season is positively bursting with brand-new offerings.


“The Harder They Fall” (November 3, streaming on Netflix)

The Western film genre and its protagonist, the cowboy, are instantly recognizable, unique to a specific period and place. Small dusty towns, barren landscapes, nomadic gunslingers on a mission of some sort that usually includes a variation of protecting loved ones and property from outlaws or avenging their untimely deaths; stories about lawmen or bounty hunters; and more. The cinema helped immortalize the cowboy, and he has most often been white. But as new generations of artists sought to broaden cinema’s understanding of the old frontier, films like Mario Van Peebles’ “Posse” (1993) to this year’s “Concrete Cowboy,” starring Idris Elba, have emerged.

Elba returns to the frontier in director Jeymes Samuel’s “The Harder They Fall,” which tells the story of an outlaw who discovers that his archenemy is being released from prison and seeks revenge. Joining Elba is an impressive cast of actors, including Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield, Danielle Deadwyler and Regina King. The film is an expansion of Samuel’s 51-minute western “They Die by Dawn,” which was released in 2013, also led by an all-star cast that included Jesse Williams, Michael K. Williams, Rosario Dawson, Giancarlo Esposito, and others. Filmed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Netflix-produced “The Harder They Fall” is expected to premiere on the streamer in the fall. —TO


“The Harder They Fall”


“Eternals” (November 5, theaters)

It’s difficult to pin down the most exciting aspect of Marvel’s upcoming tentpole “Eternals.” Is it that it’s directed by newly minted Best Director winner Chloé Zhao, who seems to have been not just allowed, but encouraged to bring her trademark style to the film? Or that it features a star-studded cast that includes everyone from Angelina Jolie to Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry to Gemma Chan, and that’s literally just randomly picking and choosing from a cast list that zips off a dozen thrilling names before it even dips into “undisclosed role” territory (an MCU staple)? It’s all that and more, plus the bigger question: what does the MCU look like now?

As the Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown over the past two decades, things like “linear timelines” and “direct sequels” have become, well, at least no longer the norm. Timelines bend and twist not just from film to film, but even from moment to moment (looking at you, last two “Avengers” films). While the film picks up post-“Endgame” (and thus also post-“Blip”), it’s also been billed as a time-spanning epic that follows characters who have been on Earth for over 7,000 years, so expect some generous flashbacks. Beyond her lush filmmaking style, Zhao’s affection for deeply felt human stories also makes her a compelling pick for a film like “Eternals,” which follows an enviable cast of (literally) extraordinary characters. If anyone can ground these super-powered heroes in the real world, it’s Zhao. Now that’s worth looking forward to. KE

“Belfast” (November 12, theaters)

Writer-director Kenneth Branagh returned to his hometown of Belfast as the setting of his most personal film to date, a drama about a young boy (Jude Hill) growing up with swinging working-class parents (Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe) amid the social and cultural tumult of late-1960s Northern Ireland. Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds are the kid’s grandparents. Branagh shot during the pandemic and will debut the film at the Toronto International Film Festival.

After an iffy run with his latest directorial outings — his “Artemis Fowl” was widely derided, it’s unclear if his beleaguered “Death on the Nile” will ever see release — “Belfast” looks to return the director and actor to prominence. AT

“Tick, Tick… Boom!” (November 12, theaters; November 19, streaming on Netflix)

Thanks to pandemic pushbacks, Lin-Manuel Miranda has a whole lot of movies going on all at once. He follows the movie version of Broadway smash “Hamilton,” the Jon M. Chu adaptation of his first musical “In the Heights,” and animated musicals “Encanto” and “Vivo” with his feature directorial debut, “Tick, Tick…Boom!”

Adapted by “Dear Evan Hansen” Tony winner Steven Levenson from “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson’s auto-fictional musical, the movie stars Andrew Garfield as a theater composer suffering a midlife crisis, with support from Bohemia music mavens Vanessa Hudgens, Alexandra Shipp, Judith Light and Bradley Whitford. Larson performed the musical as a solo work in 1990, before playwright David Auburn revamped it into a 2001 Off-Broadway musical following Larson’s tragic death. “Rent” opened on Broadway in the meantime, making the late Larson a musical theater phenomenon.

Speaking to Jimmy Fallon earlier this year, Garfield said the following about working with Miranda: “You know Lin, he’s like a crazy mixture of the most precocious eight year-old genius student of life that won’t stop talking and has a reference to everything, while simultaneously being one of the greatest creative geniuses of our time. It’s this weird combination of having that eight year-old running around your ankles, but that eight year-old has also written ‘Hamilton.’”  —AT

“The Power of the Dog” (November 17, select theaters; December 1, streaming on Netflix)

As one of only a handful of female filmmakers to be nominated for Best Director at the Oscars, Jane Campion is part of a rarefied club wherever she goes. Her latest film, an adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel of the same name, promises to only increase her profile amongst cinephiles, arthouse devotees, and film fans eager for a genuinely different kind of big screen adaptation.

The film features real-life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in a domestic drama set in 1920s Montana that centers around two brothers whose relationship is upended by a woman and other new arrivals on their ranch. That may sound predictable, but the novel is a wrenching piece of art and Campion’s film has already been hailed as being filled with “unexpected cadences and rhythms” with Campions’ “daring … matched every step of the way by her extraordinary, fully immersed cast.” The all-star cast also includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Thomasin McKenzie, Frances Conroy, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The film is already set as the Centerpiece feature at this year’s New York Film Festival, setting it up for an enviable run throughout the rest of the fall and, perhaps, awards season, too. —KE

“C’mon C’mon” (November 19, theaters)

The filmmaker to land Joaquin Phoenix’s first post-“Joker” role? Mike Mills, the “Beginners” and “20th Century Women” writer-director who’s delivering his first movie in five years. Very little is known about “C’mon C’mon,” but the plot concerns an artist (Phoenix) who’s put in charge of his kid nephew (Woody Norman) and how they become closer than either imagined they could be during a trip across the U.S. It certainly sounds like the kind of character-centric relationship study Mills specializes in.

“The Favourite” and “Marriage Story” cinematographer Robbie Ryan is lending his prodigious gifts to the film, which is set to be released through A24. “Joker” was the most profitable comic book movie of all time, so it’s gratifying to see that Phoenix is as mercurial in his choices as ever to choose so definitively a non-blockbuster for his next effort. —CB

“King Richard” (November 19, theaters and streaming on HBO Max)

Will Smith’s initial casting as Richard Williams, father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, who was their coach from a very early age and engineered their careers, raised some eyebrows. Accusations of colorism flooded social media, because Smith’s skin color is several shades fairer than Williams’, drawing comparisons to previous instances of actors miscast in roles as real-life personalities; most notably, Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone in the 2016 film, “Nina.” Smith ignored the criticism, and has yet to publicly address it, but it’s likely that he will have to contend with the issue when the film premieres in November, as a possible awards contender.

The controversy alone should help make “King Richard” a topic of discussion after its nationwide release. Williams’ unconventional parenting and coaching methods were driven by an undeterred vision of what his daughters could become, rising from the streets of Compton, California to the global stage as not just superstar athletes, but also international icons. For two decades, the Williams sisters had a chokehold on pro tennis, overcoming adversity that may have thwarted others without a similar determination. And much of that is due to their father’s tenacity.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, “King Richard” co-stars Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the sisters, and Aunjanue Ellis as their mother and co-coach who divorced their father in 2002. Tony Goldwyn, Jon Bernthal, and Dylan McDermott round out the supporting cast. —TO

“House of Gucci” (November 24, theaters)

Nothing can stop filmmaker Ridley Scott from getting down to the business of making movies — not reshooting major chunks of a nearly-done film to cut out an alleged sex predator, not pandemics that force major productions to totally rethink how they are done, and certainly not pissed-off iconic families that don’t like that some of their buzziest tragedies are getting the big screen treatment — and that’s to say nothing of his ability to make a meal out of a hair and makeup budget.

Scott’s latest feature speaks to his uniquely go-for-broke ethos, a glitzy, glittery, and decidedly murder-centric drama based on the real-life story of Patrizia Reggiani and Maurizio Gucci (yes, that Gucci). Scott has been trying to make a film about the pair’s twisted love affair (which arguably “ended” in murder, though plenty happened after Gucci was killed in 1995) since the early aughts, and after a series of setbacks, switch-ups, and snags, “House of Gucci” is primed for release later this year.

If set photos and social media posts and a banger of a first trailer are any indication, the film will at least look fantastic, with stars Lady Gaga and Adam Driver sporting the very best in ’80s and ’90s fashion (read: shiny, very shiny), all set against a complex, juicy, and straight-up soap opera-y real life drama. KE

HOUSE OF GUCCI, from left: Adam Driver as Maurizio Gucci, Lady Gaga as Patrizia Reggiani, 2021. © MGM / Courtesy Everett Collection

“House of Gucci”

Everett Collection

“Licorice Pizza” (November 26, limited theaters; December 25, wide release)

The new Paul Thomas Anderson film (which was for so long reportedly titled “Soggy Bottom”) might just be the cinephile event of 2021 fall movie season. Not too much is known about the film, Anderson’s follow-up to “Phantom Thread,” other than it’s an ensemble film set in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s. Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Oscar winner and frequent Anderson collaborator Philip Seymour Hoffman, plays a former child acting star now in high school who befriends a big shot Hollywood producer and director, played by Bradley Cooper in his acting follow-up to “A Star Is Born.”

Somehow Benny Safdie factors into the plot as a politician running in an election, as does HAIM band member Alana Haim as a high school friend of Hoffman’s character. MGM has already announced Anderson’s latest will open in limited release during Thanksgiving and expand nationwide during Christmas, which means the distributor hopes to play the word-of-mouth game and turn the film into a big Oscar season contender. —ZS


“Nightmare Alley” (December 3, theaters)

Guillermo del Toro’s first feature since Oscar juggernaut “The Shape of Water” gives the cinephile director the excuse to flex his film noir muscles. The giant ensemble cast features Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman, Rooney Mara, Toni Collette and others in a 1940s-set story adapted by William Lindsay Gresham’s novel.

Cooper stars as a manipulative carny who joins forces with Blanchett’s psychiatrist as they navigate the seedy underbelly of the carnival world. The second adaptation of Gresham’s novel following the 1947 cult favorite, “Nightmare Alley” finds del Toro re-teaming with cinematographer Dan Lausten and co-writing the script with film history maven Kim Morgan, which suggests a lush, imaginative period piece both rich with details from the era as well as the cinematic traditions it conveys. —EK




“Flee” (December 3, theaters)

Sundance 2021 opened on a high note with the world premiere of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s “Flee,” which Neon is releasing in theaters this fall. The animated documentary centers around an interview Rasmussen recorded with his friend, who fled Afghanistan for Russia as a child and later struggled to come out as a gay man.

Rasmussen brings to life his friend’s story through striking animated sequences that make “Flee” not just a riveting survival story, but also an exhilarating cinematic work that blurs the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking styles. By relying on animation, Rasmussen is able to adapt portions of Amin’s interview into narrative sequences so vivid they allow the film to embody the horror of Amin’s darkest moments and the unrelenting joy of his personal triumphs. Here’s hoping “Flee” becomes an Oscar contender in both the Best Documentary and Best Animated Feature races. —ZS

“Red Rocket” (December 3, theaters)

Sean Baker’s “The Florida Project” was one of the most beloved indie film releases of 2017, and his follow-up project “Red Rocket” is already gearing up to be a 2021 favorite as well. The movie was shot under-the-radar last year during the pandemic and world premiered to rave reviews at Cannes in July.

Baker is well known for casting non-professional actors in his lead roles, but he’s changing things up with “Red Rocket” as Simon Rex stars as the film’s protagonist. Rex made a name for himself after starring in three “Scary Movie” films (his additional credits include films such as “National Lampoon’s Pledge This!”), but “Red Rocket” marks a surprising change of pace for the actor who delivers a dramatic comeback that nobody saw coming. Rex stars as Mikey Saber, a porn star and suitcase pimp who leaves Los Angeles for his hometown of Texas City, Texas and finds old and new relationships taking surprising turns. —ZS

"Red Rocket"

“Red Rocket”


“The Hand of God” (December 3, select theaters; December 15, streaming on Netflix)

Italian auteur Paolo Sorrentino excels at exploring his country’s modern history through an exuberant style all his own, from “Il Divo” to the Oscar-winning “The Great Beauty” and HBO’s “The New Pope.” This time, however, he’s turning that talent into a mirror with this personal drama inspired by his youth.

Newcomer Filippo Scotti stars as a young aspiring director who comes of age while surrounded by his complex family’s lavish lifestyle and against the backdrop of soccer icon Diego Maradona joining the Napolia soccer team in the early 1980s. The Netflix project, which premieres in competition at Venice, seems likely to offer yet another example of this elegant filmmaker’s ability to reexamine modern Italian identity through rich, textured visuals and stunning emotional crescendoes. —EK

“Bendetta” (December 3, select theater and various VOD and digital platforms)

You probably won’t be shocked to hear that Paul Verhoeven’s erotic drama about the relationship between two horny nuns in a 17th century Italian convent — a sacrilegious affair that became one of modern Western civilization’s earliest documented instances of lesbianism after a parish scrivener wrote about it in his diary with curiously exacting detail — isn’t quite the restrained sapphic romance that period films like “Carol,” “Ammonite,” and “The World to Come” have popularized in recent years.

On the contrary, “Benedetta” is a movie in which the abbess of a convent gets fucked by a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary that someone has whittled into a dildo for her. The director of “Robocop,” “Showgirls,” and “Starship Troopers” has never had much use for subtlety or unspoken yearning, and his unholy adaptation of Judith C. Brown’s history book “Immodest Acts” feels closer in spirit to “The Devils” than “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” even before the film supplements its source material with a dick-less Christ, demonic omens, and a COVID-ready subplot about the efficacy of lockdown measures against the Plague. —DE

"West Side Story"

“West Side Story”

20th Century Studios

“West Side Story” (December 10, theaters)

For his screen update of the 1957 Jets vs. Sharks Broadway musical and Oscar-winning 1961 movie “West Side Story,” which introduced the iconic Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim songs “Tonight,” “Maria,” and “Somewhere,” Steven Spielberg collaborates again with Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tony Kushner (“Munich,” “Lincoln”). Unlike Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ movie adaptation, which cast a number of white actors to play Puerto Rican characters, Spielberg cast some 20 Hispanic performers in those roles, and brought back Oscar winner Rita Moreno as both actress and executive producer.

The star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria are played by singer-dancers Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver”) and newcomer Rachel Zegler, respectively. The cast also includes Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino, Corey Stoll as Lieutenant Schrank, plus Tony nominees Brian d’Arcy James (Officer Krupke), Mike Faist (Riff), and Ariana DeBose (Anita), all choreographed by Tony winner Justin Peck. Spielberg will be vying for his third Best Director Oscar (he won for “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan”). AT

“Don’t Look Up” (December 10, select theaters; December 24, streaming on Netflix)

Adam McKay’s swerve into prestige territory may have hit a bump in the road with the Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” but the “Step Brothers” auteur has only become more of a power player in the time since. Case in point: His latest movie stars literally every single famous person in the Western Hemisphere, starting with Leonardo DiCaprio (in his first role since “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Jennifer Lawrence as astronomers who discover an asteroid heading towards Earth, Meryl Streep as the President, Jonah Hill as her son, Timothée Chalamet as someone, Cate Blanchett as someone else, and other AAA talents like Melanie Lynskey, Mark Rylance, Chris Evans, Tyler Perry, and Ariana Grande (!?) added into the mix for good measure.

And yet, even with a cast like that, the most exciting thing about “Don’t Look Up” has to be the idea of McKay veering back even the tiniest bit towards his broader comedy roots, though given all that’s happened in the world since he first sold this Netflix movie to Paramount in 2019, it’s hard to imagine how a story about a country disbelieving news of their imminent peril could possibly seem politically relevant to us by December 2021. —DE

“The Tragedy of Macbeth” (December 1, theaters)

Film adaptations of Shakespeare plays are plenty. Many are faithful to the original work; others take the Bard’s plot as merely a suggestion; and the rest are somewhere in the middle. It’s not entirely clear where in the spectrum Joel Coen’s “Macbeth” lies, since details have been sparse, but it remains one of the year’s most anticipated films, based almost entirely on the collaborating talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera.

Starring Denzel Washington as the title character and Frances McDormand as his scheming wife, it’s an adaptation of a Shakespearean work that has been fodder for filmmakers of note, like Orson Welles and Roman Polanski. Coen has described his black and white film as a “tick-tock” thriller, which incorporates elements of German Expressionism. And co-star McDormand teased how the progression of the story is impacted by the aging of the Macbeths, years beyond what they are typically portrayed to be, lending it even more of an urgency than in prior adaptations.

Rounding out the cast are “In the Heights” star Corey Hawkins as Macduff, Brendan Gleeson as Duncan, and Harry Melling as Malcolm. Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of a savage lust for power makes its world premiere in September at the New York Film Festival, which describes the film as a “work of stark chiaroscuro and incantatory rage.” It will be released by Apple and A24 this fall. —TO

“The Lost Daughter” (December 17, select theaters; December 31, streaming on Netflix)

Elena Ferrante fans, your time is now. For her feature directorial debut, Maggie Gyllenhaal — who also adapted the film’s script and produced the feature — gamely ventures into the wide world of Ferrante, whose cult-level work has recently been given the mega-watt HBO miniseries treatment via “My Brilliant Friend.” “The Lost Daughter” isn’t even the first feature adaptation of Ferrante’s work, but it does promise to be the most starry, with Gyllenhaal rounding out her cast with big names like Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Johnson, Peter Sarsgaard, Ed Harris, Alba Rohrwacher, and Paul Mescal.

The film follows a woman whose beach vacation takes a dark turn when she begins to confront the troubles of her past, the kind of intriguing logline that Ferrante twists and turns into all sorts of unexpected dimensions. Don’t let the subtlety of its fool you: there’s dark stuff ahead. The drama is set to world premiere in competition at the Venice Film Festival next month, and the film — just like little brother Jake’s own “The Guilty” — will then be released by Netflix later this year. KE

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” (December 17, theaters)

The third film in the third Spider-Man trilogy of the modern era, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is rumored to pack some major surprises into the continuing adventures of Tom Holland’s adorable web-slinger. Filmmaker Jon Watts, who helmed both of the previous films in the mini-franchise, has long endeavored to make his Spidey stand alone while also folding into the much wider world of the MCU; that’s no small feat, but we’re guessing he’s about to blow it wide open for this long-anticipated capper (and, uh, by “capper” we mean, yes, of course, a fourth film is already in the works; who needs a trilogy these days?).

Rumors have abounded that the film will bring back previous Spideys, including Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, in a multiverse-busting offering that will upend the past and chart an ambitious future. While most everyone is remaining tight-lipped about all that — beyond Alfred Molina, who didn’t get the message and gleefully shared that his Doc Ock will be back, and bless him for that — the film at least assuredly has all the stuff that made the previous two incarnations so great, including Holland and his zest for the role, plus co-stars Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, and Jacob Batalon. The constant tangling and twisting of the MCU and its various players will also gift fans with an appearance by Doctor Strange himself (Benedict Cumberbatch), but here’s hoping this latest entry is able to wiggle free of the usual constraints to really blow this whole thing wide open. KE

“The Matrix 4” (December 22, theaters and streaming on HBO Max)

The still untitled fourth “Matrix” film will be the first without the participation of Lilly Wachowksi, though fans can rest easy — she gave her blessing and her sister Lana is solidly at the helm. The script hails from Wachowski, David Mitchell, and Aleksandar Hemon, who all worked on the short-lived but fan favorite Netflix series “Sense8” together.

Naturally for such a big title, details of the plot have been kept tightly under wraps. But Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Ann Moss are reprising their roles, and they’ll be joined by a stacked cast of franchise newbies and veterans alike, including Jada Pinkett-Smith, Lambert Wilson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra, Christina Ricci, and Jonathan Groff. It will be fascinating to see what trans themes Wachowski weaves into the fourth installment, especially now that “The Matrix” has been solidly canonized as an allegory for trans identity. —JD

“Cyrano” (December 31, theaters)

A movie musical based on a stage musical based on a classic play might portend things getting lost in translation, but in the hands of “Atonement” and “Darkest Hour” director Joe Wright, the song-and-dance romance “Cyrano” looks to be another highlight in a year of many screen musicals. Wright, working from the stage production by Erica Schmidt who before that adapted “Cyrano de Bergerac” from Edmond Rostand, casts his real-life partner Haley Bennett as Roxanne opposite Peter Dinklage as Cyrano. Both actors reprise their roles from the stage production, with Ben Mendelsohn joining the cast and music from the band The National. The film shot on location in Noto, Italy last year, long before the days of the vaccine.

“We’re in this bubble, and outside of this bubble is chaos, and a very bleak reality. But inside of this bubble is the most magical world I’ve ever been immersed in. And so it feels really strange to look at the news and see what’s going on outside,” Bennett told IndieWire back in December. —RL

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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