Seven Movies to Watch This Summer
The Atlantic, May 21, 2021
After more than a year of pandemic-induced delays, Hollywood plans to drop both big-budget franchise flicks and indie stunners this summer. I haven’t seen everything listed below, but I’ve followed the buzz closely as a writer covering movies, so I have some recommendations for what to stream—or perhaps see in person. Here are seven films likely to be worth your screen time.
In the Heights (HBO Max and in theaters)
This adaptation of the Tony-winning musical follows a bodega owner and the tight-knit immigrant community around him as they pursue dreams of a better life. If you’re comfortable, go see this on the biggest screen possible. Film versions of stage smashes can be hit-or-miss—or so far off target as to lose all meaning. But, according to reactions from early screenings, this Jon M. Chu–directed take on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakout Broadway success captures the vibrancy and energy of the story on a cinematic scale.
F9 (Only in theaters)
Vin Diesel wants you to return to theaters so badly, he issued a personal plea as part of the latest trailer for the forthcoming ninth entry in the Fast & Furious saga. Sappiness aside, these movies have built a versatile and durable franchise—not an easy feat in an industry intent on making cinematic universes. The committed cast and director Justin Lin, who’s proved himself deft with staging the films’ physics-defying set pieces, transformed a story about L.A. street racing into a globe-trotting, high-octane series that also demonstrates the bond of a found family. F9 is my most anticipated blockbuster this summer, and positive early reactions to the film have only turbo-charged my excitement.
Zola (Only in theaters)
Don’t let the fact that this film is adapted from a viral Twitter thread fool you: As raunchy as the story of two women who just met going on a cross-country road trip to make money dancing in strip clubs may be, the co-writer and director, Janicza Bravo, has made a clever and moving social satire. Starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, Zola is a wild ride—and one that, even before winning over critics at Sundance in 2020, nabbed distribution through A24, the studio known for championing provocative indies. This one appears to fit its mold perfectly.
Black Widow (Disney+ with Premier Access and in theaters)
Given the number of teasers, trailers, and clips that have been released for this repeatedly delayed Marvel movie, an impatient fan might be tempted to try and cobble the film together on their own instead of waiting any longer. Luckily, this release date seems to be holding firm, and the film, a prequel about the comic-book character played by Scarlett Johansson, aims to grant her a proper swan song after her unceremonious exit in Avengers: Endgame. Plus, with its introduction of Florence Pugh’s Yelena Belova, the story could be integral to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s future.
The Green Knight (Only in theaters)
Based on an oft-adapted 14th-century legend, this David Lowery–directed film delivers a psychological thriller wrapped in an epic medieval fantasy. The story follows an Arthurian knight who accepts a mysterious figure’s violent, chivalry-testing challenge, and the trailer looks moody and strange and utterly mesmerizing. I, for one, am thrilled to see Dev Patel step into the leading role in a genre and time period he hasn’t approached thus far. Plus, there’s a talking fox. What more could you want?
Jungle Cruise(Disney+ with Premier Access and in theaters)
For those who’d rather stick to family-friendly legends, this one is based on a Disneyland ride. Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. The Rock, play mismatched adventurers—she’s a serious scientist; he’s a wisecracking riverboat captain, uh-oh—who head deep into the Amazon jungle to find a tree with healing powers. Yes, the plot’s probably going to be silly and forgettable, but the footage released so far promises quippy banter and colorful, stunt-heavy fun.
CODA (Apple TV+ and in theaters)
This coming-of-age tearjerker follows a high schooler who, as the only hearing member of her family, struggles to pursue her passion for singing while serving as the bridge between her deaf relatives and the rest of the world. The story may be conventional, but the characters are not. The film was such a crowd-pleaser at Sundance this year that Apple picked it up for distribution for a record $25 million two days later. I’ve seen it, and I think it’s worth every penny.
Ten other releases to keep an eye on:
Cruella (May 28)
A Quiet Place Part II (May 28)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (June 4)
Luca (June 18)
Space Jam: A New Legacy (July 16)
Snake Eyes (July 23)
Old (July 23)
Stillwater (July 30)
The Suicide Squad (August 6)
Respect (August 13)