2021 Summer Movie Preview: Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy You Can (Maybe) Watch in Theaters

From the post-apocalypse to the moon, there’s a lot of places to be whisked away to this summer.
From the post-apocalypse to the moon, there’s a lot of places to be whisked away to this summer.
Image: Paramount, Warner Bros, A24, Marvel Studios, and Netflix

We feel like Janine in Ghostbusters, except instead of screaming “We got one!” it’s “Summer movies!”

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Yes, after basically a full year without movies in theaters, covid-19 vaccinations and health regulations have made it possible for some theaters to reopen—that means it’s time for an actual summer movie season. Hollywood is dusting off the blockbuster films that were supposed to come out in 2020 and releasing them this year and the boom in home viewing means an equal amount of intriguing films are coming to various on-demand and streaming services over the next few months. It’s not the traditional summer movie season by a long shot, but it’s close and we’ll certainly take it.

Note: It should go without saying but considering the pandemic is still ongoing, movie release dates can shift at any moment. All below dates are tentative and subject to change. Also, don’t miss out on our summer TV preview!


MAY

Cerebrum: In director Arvi’s Cerebrum, a man named Tom Davis (Christian James) signs up to participate in an experimental test of neurological technology capable of backing up a person’s consciousness digitally. Soon, he becomes involves in a strange series of events involving him committing a crime he can’t exactly recall committing and might not be responsible for. With Tom’s mind not being quite in a fixed state of existence within his own body, there’s likely some credence to his belief that he’s innocent—but while he might not be able to recall moments from his recent past, others do, and what they’ve seen disturbs them deeply. (May 4 on demand)

Benny Loves You: After spending a major chunk of his early adult life waiting for it to feel meaningful, Jack (Karl Holt) resolves to become a different person by tossing out a number of things from his past—like his once-beloved stuffed animal, Benny. But while Jack may have found a reason to move on, Benny loves what they once had, so much so that when the doll comes to life, he decides that the best way of righting Jack’s wrong is to murder people in a variety of ridiculous ways, all the while chirping pre-programmed phrases meant to make children feel safe. (May 7)

The Devil’s Child: Colombian filmmaker David Bohórquez makes his feature debut with this chiller about a young home-care nurse with a traumatic past. Things take a turn for the terrifying when her latest patient, an elderly man dwelling in a remote mansion, soon starts displaying malevolent powers. (May 7)

The Unthinkable: Explosions throughout Stockholm plunge the city into chaos, and citizens are left with no way of leaving the area where the strange attacks all seem to be occurring. Things become that much more complicated when reports spread that the military’s spotted an unidentified aircraft floating nearby. It’s unclear what exactly is plaguing the city as Alex (Christoffer Nordenrot) risks the danger to go searching for Anna (Lisa Henni), but what he finds is that the entire world may be on the brink of something devastating. (May 7)

The Water Man: When the mother (Rosario Dawson) of a young boy named Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) falls mysteriously ill in ways his father (David Oyelowo) tries to shield him from, Gunner puts his faith in the legendary Water Man, an otherworldly being who’s said to have immense restorative abilities. No one around Gunner pays much attention to his growing fascination with the Water Man, or his growing belief that he might live somewhere in the dense forest near his home—but as Gunner embarks on a journey with his friend Jo (Amiah Miller), the two quickly find that the Water Man may be much more real and dangerous than anyone truly knew. (May 7)

Oxygen: Suddenly awaking from an unknown sleep to find herself in a cryo-freezing unit, a young woman (Mélanie Laurent) is on a race against time to find both her memories and how to get out before her oxygen runs out. (May 12 on Netflix)

Spiral: From the Book of Saw: The Saw series seemed pretty dead after the putrid last film, Jigsaw, but then superfan Chris Rock came on board. He pitched a new take on the series, put himself in the lead, and brought along Samuel L. Jackson. The result, we hope, will breathe new life into one of modern horror’s most enduring franchises. (May 14)

The Djinn: There are a couple of other horror movies floating around out there with very similar titles, but this one—written and directed by Justin Powell and David Charbonier (The Boy Behind the Door)—is about a mute boy who must fend for himself after he accidentally awakens a very sinister spirit while innocently trying to make a wish. (May 14)

Army of the Dead: Zack Snyder’s first film was about zombies. His most recent film was about a team of heroes in a huge cinematic universe. And his next film, Army of the Dead, brings those two ideas together. It’s Snyder’s attempt at a fun, violent, horror-action film that’s poised to launch other spinoffs along the way. If this first film is as good as we hope, at least. (May 14 in theaters, May 21 on Netflix)

Seance: At a posh boarding school, new girl Camille (Suki Waterhouse) finds her not-so-warm welcome from the resident cool clique compounded by an ill-advised group decision to try and contact the ghost that’s said to haunt the property. Veteran horror screenwriter Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, 2016’s Blair Witch) makes his directorial debut with this spooky-looking tale. (May 21)

Dementia Part II: Apparently made on a dare, this movie hit festivals to much acclaim a few years ago, but now it’s getting a wider release. When an ex-con gets a job doing handyman work for an elderly woman named Suzanne, he discovers she has… well, you know. Then he discovers there’s a lot of people being affected by Suzanne’s dementia, specifically in the way of knife wounds and possibly cannibalism. This indie horror movie looks like it was made for $10,000, but it’s such a clear homage to Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 that it undeniably has charm. (May 21 in theaters, and June 1 on VOD and home video)

Ghost Lab: A supernatural thriller from Thailand that is, as you may have guessed from the name, about a lab that does research on ghouls and ghosts. Directed by “Goff” Paween Purijitpanya, it stars “Tor” Thanapob Leeratanakachorn, “Ice” Paris Intarakomalyasut, and “Nychaa” Nuttanicha Dungwattanawanich. (May 26 on Netflix)

Cruella: Beneath the many layers of affected glamor and costume jewelry, there are two truths about Cruella DeVil (Emma Stone): she was always evil to her core, and destined to be done in by a pack of literal dogs. But before the fashionable supervillain would get what’s coming to her, she got in a few good years of wreaking absolute criminal havoc throughout London as revenge for being mistreated as a lowly employee at a respected fashion house. If we’re all being honest, that’s also something she seems to have deserved from the looks of Cruella’s trailers, which might end up making the character’s larger existential story one about balance. (May 28 in theaters and Disney+)

A Quiet Place Part II: Here’s how you’ll know if the 2021 summer movie season is actually a thing: if you’re sitting in a theater to watch this horror sequel, which was supposed to be released last March and had more delays than any other film out there. So if you’re watching Emily Blunt and her family surviving in a world where monsters kill you if you make a sound, summer movies are officially back. (May 28)

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JUNE

Spare Parts: When a grungy rock band gets run off the road, the grrls wake up to discover their arms have been amputated and replaced with weapons. Oh, and now they’re all gladiators for the amusement of an ersatz emperor and his bloodthirsty subjects. This Canadian B-movie somewhat upends the “attractive women forced to fight” trope by having its unwilling participants become not only willing but happy and fulfilled in their new roles as warriors, but this isn’t going to be for everyone. (June 1 on VOD and home video)

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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon Eternal the Movie 1 & 2: Holy crap, new Sailor Moon movies??? (June 3 on Netflix)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It: Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are back for more adventures in supernatural terror inspired by their famous case files. Instead of another haunted-house tale, the third installment in the massively popular Conjuring series will be a courtroom drama—no doubt enhanced by scary-as-hell scenes outside the courtroom, too—based on a real case in which an accused murderer tried to use demonic possession as his defense. (June 4 in theaters and HBO Max)

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Samaritan: We know almost nothing about this movie starring Sylvester Stallone other than he says it’s supposed to be “a different kind of superhero movie” and this incredibly brief, vague synopsis: “A young boy learns that a superhero who was thought to have gone missing after an epic battle 20 years ago may in fact still be around.” This is a bit concerning, given that the movie is supposed to come out in a mere month, but maybe we’ll get a trailer soon? (June 4)

Flashback: When Frederick Fitzell (The Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) starts having visions of a girl that vanished back in his high school, he gathers his old friends to figure out what happened—by taking a mysterious drug called Mercury that either gives him flashbacks and/or possibly sends his consciousness back to the past… and maybe even more. Flashback doesn’t have a star-studded cast, but take a moment to watch the trailer, because this movie looks fascinating. (June 4)

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Illustration for article titled 2021 Summer Movie Preview: Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy You Can (Maybe) Watch in Theaters
Photo: Netflix

Awake: We don’t have any footage of this one yet but it’s a sci-fi thriller directed by Mark Raso and written by him and Joseph Raso. It stars Gina Rodriguez, Lucius Hoyos, and Love and Monsters Ariana Greenblatt along with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Finn Jones, Shamier Anderson, and Frances Fisher. (June 9 on Netflix)

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Wish Dragon: If you didn’t get enough magical dragons from Raya this year, how about some more? The summary is as follows: “In Sony Pictures Animation’s Wish Dragon, Din, a working-class college student with big dreams but small means, and Long, a cynical but all-powerful dragon capable of granting wishes, set off on a hilarious adventure through modern day Shanghai in pursuit of Din’s long-lost childhood friend, Lina. Their journey forces them to answer some of life’s biggest questions—because when you can wish for anything, you have to decide what really matters.” It stars the voices of John Cho, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Jimmy Wong, Constance Wu, Will Yun Lee, and more. (June 11 on Netflix)

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Untitled Horror Movie: No, it’s not a placeholder! Nick Simon’s horror-comedy follows a group of actors (Claire Holt, Luke Baines, Darren Barnet, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Katherine McNamara, and Timothy Granaderos) about to be out of jobs when their long-running TV show is canceled. What better way to pass the time by filming your own horror movie, and accidentally summoning a bloodthirsty demon to pick each of you off while doing so? (June 15)

Luca: If Luca’s (Jacob Tremblay) parents didn’t make such a fuss about keeping him from wandering out of the ocean to the surface world where humans dwelled, it’s likely that he would have been content to spend his days living hidden in the sea with the rest of his amphibious people. But once Luca begins sneaking up to the surface to hang out with his new buddy Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who makes a point of bucking their people’s norms, it takes almost no time before the fish boys are sneaking around among humans, all the while hoping that their secret’s never found out. (June 18 on Disney+)

Peter Rabbit 2: James Corden is back and bunnied up for the next animation/live-action hybrid take on Beatrix Potter’s beloved children’s book icon. Unappreciated for his antics at home, this time Peter goes on the run in search of adventure... only to find it might not be all it’s cracked up to be. (June 18)

F9: With this film poised to be the blockbuster of the summer, the return of the Fast and Furious franchise arrives with high expectations. Like, beyond sky-high. Like, we’re going to space because that’s what the franchise is now. F9 is the first part in a trilogy of Fast films that’ll bring the saga to a close, and that means it’s going to be epic as all hell. (June 25)

Werewolves Within: If the trailer is anything to go by, this based-on-a-VR-game tale of a small town with a sudden werewolf problem looks like a blast. As an added bonus, the cast includes What We Do in the Shadows’ Harvey “Guillermo” Guillén, who we would follow into any genre but are delighted to see him keeping it in the horror family here. (June 25 in theaters, July 2 on VOD)

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America: The Motion Picture: We just found out about this wild one where the makers of Archer retell the founding of the United States. It stars a curiously buff George Washington (voiced by Channing Tatum), along with Sam Adams (Jason Mantzoukas), Blacksmith (Killer Mike), Geronimo (Raoul Max Trujillo), and Thomas Edison (Olivia Munn). (June 30 on Netflix)

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JULY

The Forever Purge: The fifth and purportedly last installment in the indefatigable Purge series picks up after the election in part four, which saw the annual ritual of murderous mayhem abolished. Naturally, that doesn’t sit well with the Purge faithful, as an unfortunate couple discovers when they seek refuge in the wrong Texas border town. (July 2)

The Tomorrow War: Chris Pratt plays a soldier recruited across time to form an elite squadron of temporally displaced commandos tasked with fighting for a future Earth ravaged by alien invaders. (July 2 on Amazon)

Black Widow: We got emotional every time we heard that Marvel Studios music on Disney+ for WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, so to hear it in a theater, watching a new Marvel Studios movie... well, we’re not entirely sure how we’ll react. Plus, we finally get to learn more about Natasha’s past and family and see how that may impact the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (July 9 in theaters and Disney+)

Space Jam: A New Legacy: Michael Jordan may be the only original Space Jam star who doesn’t appear in this sequel. As the trailer showed, an alarmingly robust lineup of Warner Bros. characters will watch as LeBron James and the Looney Tunes attempt to escape a virtual world. (July 16 in theaters and HBO Max)

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Cinderella: Although this is a musical, Disney has nothing to do with this modern retelling of the Cinderella story. Pop star Camila Cabello stars as the titular serving girl, with Billy Porter as her fairy godparent, and Frozen’s Idina Menzel as her evil stepmother. Other than the time frame, it seems like this adaptation will otherwise be faithful to the original fairy tale, as comedians John Mulaney and James Corden will play the two mice who become footmen, so you can probably expect pumpkin carriages and glass slippers as well. (TBD 2021 on Amazon, originally July 16)

Great White: Here’s a new spin on the killer shark movie as Katrina Bowden (30 Rock) and four other strangers crash land and must fight to survive in the water against... well, you guessed it. (July 16)

Old: If growing old wasn’t scary enough, just wait until the concept finds its way into the capable hands of director M. Night Shyamalan. He’s weaponized aging with his new film about random people on a beach that ages its occupants at an alarmingly fast rate. A simple idea. A scary idea. And we are terrified to see what happens next. (July 23)

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Hotel Transylvania: Transformania: Genndy Tartakovsky is out of the director’s seat for the fourth Hotel Transylvania, which sees Dracula (Brian Hull, replacing Adam Sandler) and his dysfunctional vampire-human family return for one seemingly final time. (July 23)

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins: Hasbro reboots the G.I. Joe franchise by focusing on the origin story of the franchise’s most popular character, Snake Eyes (as did 2013’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation, but no matter). Crazy Rich Asians breakout Henry Golding plays the ninja, with Andrew Koji as his archrival Storm Shadow and Samara Weaving and Úrsula Corberó as the fan-favorites G.I. Joe agent Scarlett and Cobra officer the Baroness, respectively. It’s extremely weird that a major summer blockbuster like this hasn’t released a trailer yet—especially since the movie was originally scheduled for March 27, 2020—but hopefully, there’s nothing to worry about. (July 23)

Jungle Cruise: After Disney made billions on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you’d assume the studio would rush right back and make movies about all of its theme-park rides. Alas, that didn’t happen. In fact, it won’t be until this movie that one single ride gets its own full-fledged, big-budget Disney action movie. So you have to think it’ll be worth the wait. (July 30)

The Green Knight: King Arthur’s (Sean Harris) nephew, Sir Gawain (Dev Patel) is all-too-accustomed to being in the presence of living legends whose existences are entangled in the deeper magics of the world that many people don’t necessarily believe in. This, among other things, is what pushes Gawain to set out in search of the legendary Green Knight (Ralph Ineson), a being said to be more than human, and neither friend nor foe. (July 30)

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans: Guillermo del Toro is back for more as “the heroes from Trollhunters, 3 Below, and Wizards must team up to face a mysterious enemy who threatens to take over their worlds.” Sounds like its own MCU! (July 21 on Netflix)

Nine Days: When violin prodigy Amanda dies in a car crash, Will (Black Panther’s Winston Duke) has a tough job: interviewing and selecting which one of five candidates gets to be reborn in her place. If the candidates (including characters played by Zazie Beetz, Bill Skarsgård, and Tony Hale) can’t make their case over the course of nine days, they’re erased from existence. This surreal, somber existential drama has been widely acclaimed, as has Duke’s performance. (July 30)

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Illustration for article titled 2021 Summer Movie Preview: Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy You Can (Maybe) Watch in Theaters
Photo: Netflix

Blood Red Sky: Listed as supernatural horror on Netflix’s website, the official description for this one is: “Flying with her young son, a mysteriously ill woman is forced to unleash a dark secret when terrorists attempt to hijack their transatlantic flight.” So... werewolves... or vampires... or zombies on a plane? We shall see. (TBD July on Netflix)

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AUGUST

The Suicide Squad: From the trailers, it’s pretty evident James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is gonna be a blast. What we’re wondering though is—if it has characters from the other Suicide Squad movie, but also new characters, and also a talking shark, what the heck world is this movie set in? Maybe the bigger question is, does it even matter? We aren’t sure but our excitement to find out will continue to increase through August. (August 6 in theaters and HBO Max)

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The Last Matinee: Think of the opening of Scream 2, but made into a whole movie. That’s The Last Matinee, about a killer who begins to pick off audience members who’re watching a new horror film. Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the theater! (August 6 in theaters, August 24 on VOD)

Free Guy: What would happen if one of the NPCs in your favorite video game became self-aware? That’s kind of the setup for Free Guy, which has Ryan Reynolds blasting his way through a video game world. It looks absolutely ridiculous and that’s exactly what we want it to be. (August 13)

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Don’t Breathe 2: In this sequel to 2016 horror hit, the Blind Man (Stephen Lang) is back to make a fresh group of home invaders fervently wish they’d picked another address. This time, he’s trying to make a fresh start with his adopted daughter, until she’s kidnapped and he has to dig deep with his own particular brand of revenge. (August 13)

Demonic: “A young woman unleashes terrifying demons when supernatural forces at the root of a decades-old rift between mother and daughter are ruthlessly revealed in this horror-thriller from director Neill Blomkamp,” according to the official synopsis. Reportedly, the film will also include sci-fi elements, which isn’t surprising given the director’s pedigree, which includes District 9 and Elysium. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the film is that Blomkamp managed to shoot it entirely during the pandemic, so it’ll be interesting to see how this turns out. (August 20 in theaters and on VOD)

Night House: David Bruckner (The Signal) directs Rebecca Hall (Godzilla vs. Kong) in this eerie tale of a recently widowed woman who starts to believe she’s being haunted by her husband’s ghost, with a troubling mystery about his death lurking around the edges of her grief. (August 20)

Candyman: As the summer comes to a close and the fall creeps in, what better movie to bridge the gap than Nia DaCosta’s Candyman? Another of the 2020 holdovers, this horror remake/sequel explores the hook-handed killer from the past in a new, modern context. We’re very ready to be scared by him once again. (August 27)

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Reminiscence: Set in a near-future ravaged by rising sea levels, Nicholas (Hugh Jackman), a man who uses technology to investigate and re-live peoples’ memories, finds himself falling for a client, Mae (Rebecca Ferguson). But when another client’s experiences implicate Mae in a series of violent crimes, Nicholas finds himself thrust into a dark and personal new investigation. (August 27)


TBD Summer

Illustration for article titled 2021 Summer Movie Preview: Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy You Can (Maybe) Watch in Theaters
Photo: Netflix
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Fear Street Saga: R.L. Stines’ other horror novel franchise is finally getting its due with not one, not two, but three films, all directed and co-written by Leigh Janiak. Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978, and Fear Street: 1666 are all coming to haunt us, trilogy-style. (TBD on Netflix)

Vivo: When a sudden tragedy tears Vivo, a musical kinkajou (Lin-Manuel Miranda) from owner and friend Andrés (Juan de Marcos González), the lively mammal is heartbroken. But Vivo’s outlook shifts after he comes into contact with Andrés’ old partner, superstar Marta Sandoval (Gloria Estefan), to who Andrés never got to profess his love. Though Vivo can’t actually speak, he knows that he has what it takes to convey Andrés’ message to Marta, but he’s going to have to actually get to her first if he wants to accomplish his goal. (Summer TBD on Netflix)

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James is a News Editor at io9, where you can find him delivering your morning spoilers, writing about superheroes, and having many feelings about Star Wars. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

Over 12 years in digital media. On-camera person, ex-radio DJ (94.3 The Point), my past work includes The Mary Sue, THR, IGN, HitFix, & more. Author: Womanthology, Chicks Dig Comics, IncrediBuilds.

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

io9 News Editor, here since 2016. Previously SF Bay Guardian newspaper (RIP), SFSU (MA, Cinema Studies), member of the SF Bay Area Film Critics Circle, big fan of horror, metal, and verrry small dogs.

Entertainment Reporter. NYU Cinema Studies Alum. Formerly Premiere, EW, Us Weekly, and /Film. AP Award-Winning Film Critic & CCA member. Loves Star Wars, posters, Legos, and often all three at once.

Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.

DISCUSSION

bagman818
Jubal Harshaw

“the capable hands of director M. Night Shyamalan

I feel like ‘capable’ needs a modifier. Perhaps “intermittently”?