Dune, Bond and Top Gun returns: Films to look out for in 2021

Daniel Craig hands in his licence to kill, Frances McDormand delivers her best ever performance, Carey Mulligan unsettles in a rape-revenge drama and Tom Cruise reaches for the skies … this year’s must-see films

News of the World

Paul Greengrass’s latest film is based on the western novel by Paulette Jiles, about a girl returning to her family in 1860s Texas after being kidnapped by the Kiowa tribe. Helena Zengel plays the girl, Johanna, and Tom Hanks plays the man who must look after her: Captain Kidd, an ex-army veteran who makes a living reading aloud from newspapers to illiterate townsfolk, and who is now in the middle of a very big news story.
• Released in the UK on 1 January


Pitch Perfect producer Kay Cannon now directs this new live-action reboot of Cinderella, with James Corden as co-writer. The Grammy-nominated singing star Camila Cabello takes the leading role of Cinders, yearning for her prince. Idina Menzel plays the evil stepmother, Britain’s Nicholas Galitzine is the handsome Prince Robert, and Broadway star Billy Porter is Fab G, the genderqueer Fairy Godparent. (There is no word yet on Buttons, but surely Christopher Biggins is available.)
• 5 February

Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt)

This much-liked Australian romcom gives us the story of Ellie, a high-school high-flyer who aces her academic work but can’t figure out a way to talk to Abbie, the girl with whom she’s hopelessly in love – or ask her to the prom. Then a miracle happens: her dead lesbian aunt Tara returns as fairy godmother to offer plain-speaking advice from beyond the grave, but she hasn’t dated since the 1980s, and Gen Z dating norms aren’t easy for her to grasp.
• 5 February

Michael Gandolfini filming The Many Saints of Newark.
Tony Soprano returns ... Michael Gandolfini filming The Many Saints of Newark. Photograph: Startraks Photo/Rex/Shutterstock

The Many Saints of Newark

David Chase has co-written a prequel movie to his classic HBO series The Sopranos, featuring Michael Gandolfini as the young Tony Soprano – Michael being the son of the late James Gandolfini who played the New Jersey crime boss when the show was in its pomp. Corey Stoll plays the young Uncle Junior and Billy Magnussen is the young Paulie Walnuts. But who will be playing the ruthless young matriarch Livia Soprano?
• 12 February

The United States vs Billie Holiday

Lee Daniels’ new biopic of the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, played here by Andra Day, probes the way she was harassed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, especially after she released her searing song Strange Fruit, about racism and the lynching of black men. The drama takes as its jumping-off point the sensational assertion from the British journalist Johann Hari that Holiday had an affair with a black undercover officer called Jimmy Fletcher, who had been assigned to arrest her. (Previous studies had suggested there was nothing more than a brief friendship.) Fletcher is here played by Moonlight’s Trevante Rhodes.
• 12 March

Promising Young Woman

As an actor, Emerald Fennell was the sensual and worldly Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown, breaking the heart of Josh O’Connor’s Prince Charles. Now as a writer-director, she has created one of the most talked about films of the year – an icily subversive rape-revenge parable. Carey Mulligan plays Cassie, who likes to fake blacking-out drunk behaviour on the weekends, just to see how far her nice-guy dates will go with someone who they think can’t resist and won’t remember in the morning. It’s a challenging and provocative movie, and Mulligan is being tipped for silverware greatness.
• 12 February


Frances McDormand delivers the performance of her career in what may well be the film of the year, from director Chloé Zhao. Nomadland is a docu-fictional movie about the American phenomenon of “nomads” – the sixtysomethings whose financial security and chances of retirement were shattered by the 2008 crash and who now roam the country in campervans looking for seasonal work. McDormand plays a fictional “nomad” and Zhao stages wonderfully conceived encounters with the real thing, while on the road. Moving, insightful, superb.
• 19 February

The Mauritanian

A true-life legal thriller that may be a rival to Aaron Sorkin’s confrontation classic A Few Good Men. Kevin Macdonald directs the drama, which is based on the bestselling memoir Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi , who was imprisoned in Guantántamo Bay for over 10 years without trial. Tahar Rahim plays Slahi himself and Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley are his defence lawyers Nancy Hollander and Teri Duncan, and Benedict Cumberbatch plays the ferocious prosecutor Stu Couch who comes to have qualms about evidence acquired under torture.
• 25 February

The Dissident

Oscar-winning documentary-maker Bryan Fogel takes on the grisly assassination of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Saudi Arabian journalist was the reformist critic of the government who in 2018 entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers relating to his marriage, but was murdered and dismembered so that his corpse could be discreetly removed. The Saudis’ nervous allies, including the UK, are reluctant to make a fuss about this important Middle East ally and arms purchaser. The film is reputed to have sensational new audio-tape evidence about who ordered the murder.
• 5 March

The Father

Anthony Hopkins gives a much-acclaimed performance in this film, based on the original French stage play by Florian Zeller, and now directed by Zeller with a new English screenplay by Christopher Hampton. Hopkins plays an old man who is descending into dementia – to the horror of his daughter and carer, played by Olivia Colman. The story is told from his bewildered and terrified viewpoint, as people and places morph into each other as if in a nightmare.
• 12 March

Daniel Craig in No Time to Die.
A Waller-Bridge Bond? ... Daniel Craig in No Time to Die. Photograph: TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Stock Photo

No Time to Die

The 007 brand has been a bit tarnished lately, with the new James Bond movie abruptly pulled from the cinema schedules in the autumn (for the second time) and many cinemas blaming this letdown on their temporary closure. At any rate, here it is: Daniel Craig is hanging up his tux and sky-blue swimming briefs and bowing out of the 007 role with his latest Bond thriller, which has been delayed twice due to the lockdown. Veteran Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have teamed up with Fleabag legend Phoebe Waller-Bridge for what is purportedly a funnier, savvier Bond for Craig’s last hurrah.
• 2 April

A Quiet Place Part II

Those people who still associate John Krasinski with the fresh-faced Jim Halpert from the American TV version of The Office perhaps need to catch-up with the brilliant sci-fi futurist nightmare A Quiet Place from 2018, for which Krasinki was co-writer, director and star. In the story of a world menaced by blind alien monsters with super-strength hearing, Krasinski played opposite his wife Emily Blunt. Now he is back with the sequel.
• 23 April

Last Night in Soho

One of Britain’s brightest movie talents, Edgar Wright, returns with a psychological London horror with a time-travel theme, avowedly in the classic style of Nic Roeg. Set both in the present and in the glamorous and yet seedy world of swinging 60s London, it’s co-written with smart new talent Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who also co-scripted 1917 with Sam Mendes). Anya Taylor-Joy stars, and there’s some connoisseur-60s casting with the appearances of Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham. Iconic, but now sadly departed stars Diana Rigg and Margaret Nolan gave their final performances in this film.
• 23 April

Black Widow

Cate Shortland, who made the great Australian film Somersault, now directs this big-ticket superhero movie, in which Black Widow from Avengers takes centre stage in the 24th MCU film, a debut for which Marvel fans have long been yearning. Scarlett Johansson returns as the former FSB agent Black Widow (that is Natasha Romanoff), after the events of Captain America: Civil War, in which she is isolated and must fight to survive. The film brings in Florence Pugh as an ally of Romanoff’s and also Rachel Weisz is Melina Vostokoff, her handler from the world of espionage.
• 7 May


Lin-Manuel Miranda is the composer and lyricist who became a titan of American musical theatre with his Broadway smash Hamilton. Now he is back with 11 new songs, in this bold new animated tale on a Latinx theme, about a capuchin monkey who has a passion for music and a thirst for adventure, and makes an exciting and dangerous journey from Havana to Miami to fulfil his dream.
• 4 June

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Whoever it is you were gonna call, you’d better call ’em again. This new Ghostbusters is a conventional threequel, effectively a follow-up to Ghostbusters 2 (and so standing apart from the recent gender-switch reboot). Thirty years on from the original story, two children and their single mom discover their link to the original ghostbusting heroes. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver reprise their roles; sadly, Harold Ramis died in 2014.
• 11 June

Top Gun: Maverick

Still speedy, still needy, still eerily boyish, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns in this present-day sequel to Top Gun. The legendary US navy pilot played by Tom Cruise could be piloting a desk by now, but he prefers to be a badass warrior of the skies. Jennifer Connelly is now Tom’s love interest, a mere nine years his junior. Miles Teller plays Rooster Bradshaw, the son of Goose Bradshaw from the first film, who was played by Anthony Edwards. Could it be that this film will finally include the homoeroticism famously imagined by Top Gun superfans Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino? Probably not.
• 9 July


It’s over 20 years since M Night Shyamalan bowled us over with The Sixth Sense, and despite some very rocky moments in his career – and supremely dodgy films such as Lady in the Water, The Happening and The Last Airbender – he has never quite vanished from the scene. And now he is back with a high-concept supernatural mystery thriller of the sort he loves, based on the graphic novel Sandcastle, by Pierre Oscar Lévy. A bunch of tourists happen on a staggeringly beautiful seaside cove, but somehow can’t find their way out, and make an awful discovery: they are ageing a few years every half an hour.
• 23 July

People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan

Here is the movie version of the British TV comedy People Just Do Nothing, starring Allan Mustafa, Asim Chaudhry and Hugo Chegwin, all about the radical pirate radio station in Brentford, transmitting drum and bass and garage – the legendary Kurupt FM, run by MC Grindah and DJ Beats. Now, after a period of creative stagnancy, the main players of Kurupt FM are astounded to hear that some of their music has been on a popular Japanese TV gameshow – so our heroes travel to Japan to get the money and acclaim that is rightfully theirs.
• 13 August

People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan.
Brentford to Tokyo ... People Just Do Nothing: Big in Japan. Photograph: BBC Films

Deep Water

Veteran British director Adrian Lyne returns to the movies after a long absence with a psychologically tense erotic thriller – perhaps something to compare with his 80s masterpiece Fatal Attraction – starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas. Deep Water is based on the 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith. A man trapped in a loveless open marriage has reluctantly agreed that his wife can have lovers as long as she does not desert the family home. When one of these lovers is found murdered, the husband thinks it would be a good idea to put around the rumour that he killed this man, in order to deter his wife from straying any more.
• 13 August

The Beatles: Get Back

Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary, about the making of their final album, Let It Be, has the blessing of the surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr and it has been conceived as a creative riposte, of sorts, to the Michael Lindsay-Hogg film that showed rancour and acrimony. This will re-edit the footage and show new material to show the good feeling that McCartney and Starr say they remember. More startlingly, Jackson will reportedly use the transformative digital techniques that he applied to his first world war film They Shall Not Grow Old.
• 27 August


Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman … Jordan Peele (the author of Get Out) has co-written this ingenious new film in the Candyman horror franchise – originally based on the Clive Barker short story, from 1984; the director and co-writer is Nia DaCosta. The grim Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, where the Candyman would appear to anyone who repeated his name five times in the mirror, is now all flashy, upscale apartments and condominiums. But the Candyman is not to be gentrified out of existence as easily as that.
• 27 August


This is an epic new adaptation of the classic SF novel by Frank Herbert from 1965 – the first of two projected movies that will cover only the first half of the book. It takes some chutzpah to take on a movie adaptation last attempted by David Lynch, but this is what Denis Villeneuve has done – having already shown he has the sci-fi chops with Arrival and Blade Runner. Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson star.
• 1 October

The Last Duel

The intriguing screenwriting team of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener take on a potent true story from medieval France that has assumed the potency of Arthurian myth – and Ridley Scott directs. Damon plays the knight, Sir Jean De Carrouges, who has accused his friend Sir Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping his wife Marguerite (Jodie Comer). The king, Charles VI, played by Affleck, decrees that there is only one way to settle this – a trial by combat between the two men, on the understanding that God will create the just outcome. If De Carrouges loses, Marguerite will be burned at the stake for her false accusation. Criminal justice was exciting in those days.
• 15 October


Chloé Zhao makes her second appearance on this list, as the film-maker lauded for her amazing docu-realist masterpiece Nomadland. This couldn’t be more different. It’s a Marvel superhero film about a mighty race of aliens who have been living on Earth for millennia and come out of shadowy hiding to battle against mankind’s enemy, the Deviants. The project, unveiled at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2019, features Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden and Gemma Chan.
• 5 November

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Side Story.
Star-crossed lovers ... Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Side Story. Photograph: Allstar/20th Century Fox/Niko Tavernise

West Side Story

With the politics of identity and ethnicity such a hot-button issue, Steven Spielberg takes on this ageless classic, updated from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with its immortal Leonard Bernstein score – but will it follow last year’s Broadway revival in dropping the song I Feel Pretty, a move some suspected was driven by contemporary squeamishness about body fascism? Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler are Tony and Maria, the star-crossed lovers, and Rita Moreno, the iconic star of the original film returns in a supporting role.
• 10 December

The French Dispatch

Once again, Wes Anderson brings his Olympic-level drollery and quirk in a style now endlessly spoofed by YouTube admirers (but never quite nailed). As with The Grand Budapest Hotel (inspired by Stefan Zweig), Anderson gives us an upscale literary-tourist vision of Europe – this time inspired by New Yorker correspondents such as SN Behrman and Mavis Gallant – in which an American paper’s French bureau enterprisingly reports on the 1968 protests in the city of Ennui-sur-Blasé. Stars Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and many more.
Date TBC


Lovely, heartfelt performances from Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth carry this intimate movie from actor-turned-director Harry Macqueen. They play Tusker and Sam, a couple in middle age who face their greatest challenge after Tusker is diagnosed with early-onset dementia. They go on a camper-van holiday to the north of England to visit Sam’s sister and come to terms with the fact that this may be their last holiday together.
• Date TBC


The open secret of Victorian sexuality is rediscovered by director Francis Lee in his tremendous drama of forbidden love in 1840s Lyme Regis. Kate Winslet plays the real-life 19th-century palaeontologist Mary Anning, whose pioneering ideas and extraordinary fossil finds were appropriated without acknowledgment by the male scientific establishment. Saoirse Ronan plays Charlotte Murchison, a young woman whose friendship with Anning soon becomes much more.
Date TBC

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

The hit UK stage musical now gets a film version, with Max Harwood playing Jamie, and theatre director Jonathan Butterell making his feature film debut. Jamie is a lonely 16-year-old at school, a young gay man who is bullied by the homophobes in class and patronised by dull teachers who bristle with uncomprehending distaste at his dreams of being a drag queen, and tell him to get a boring, proper job. The movie shows Jamie battling to make it.
• Date TBC

• All release dates are UK and are subject to change.

• This article was amended on 29 and 30 December 2020, and on 12 January 2021. The Many Saints of Newark is a prequel to The Sopranos, not a sequel as it was misdescribed. The start of the UK stage musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is now undated, not in January as an earlier version said. And a reference to Daniel Craig “hanging up his Beretta” was removed, as this was not a gun used by Craig in his Bond movies.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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