Fall 2021 Movie Preview: 60+ Must-See Films

Trust us when we say we hope there’s a day when the words pandemic and COVID-19 are never written on the pages of this website again, specifically in any intros to any features. However, the reality is that the collective disruption of 2020 was difficult, and it made 2021’s release schedule something of a log-jammed shitshow. That Delta variant could play havoc with things too, but we’re all starting to learn to live with a world that’s in flux. 

READ MORE: The Best Films Of 2021, So Far

All that said, the delays of 2021 have had their pluses. The Cannes Film Festival may have been in July of this year, but the line-up was inordinately stacked with heavy hitters that decided to wait a year to promote and debut their films at an optimal time. That also makes for a robust 2021 Fall Film movie release calendar, if things hold, of course. Yes, some blockbusters, like “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” seem to be retreating for the hills, which is not a bad thing given fall film movie season is really a time for dramas, adult films, and blockbusters had increasingly invaded arthouse movies, and that frame in recent years (Marvel’s “Eternals” is also one that could potentially move as Kevin Feige has suggested).

READ MORE: The 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2021

Regardless, with the Fall Film Festival season about to commence, Venice, Telluride, the Toronto International Film Festival, Fantastic Fest, and New York Film Festival, we are about to be bombarded with word about movies like “Dune,” “Halloween Kills” and new films from A-list filmmakers like Jane Campion, Pablo Larrain,  Edgar Wright, Joel Coen, Mike Mills, Paul Schrader, Ridley Scott, Paolo Sorrentino, Ana Lily Amirpour, Pedro Almovodar and many, many more. Regardless, here’s our 2021 Fall Film preview; all dates are subject to change if studios get a weak stomach and/or Delta messes with us all. – Rodrigo Perez

READ MORE: The 25 Best Films Of 2020 You Didn’t See

As “Cruella” shows, live-action adaptations of animated classics aren’t going away anytime soon. This one, however, is directed by the wonderfully funny Kay Cannon (“Blockers”), and this iteration aims to capture the magic, music, and enchantment that makes the original so timeless. Camila Cabello stars as the titular princess, with Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver, James Corden, Missy Elliott, and others rounding out the ensemble. Expect pageantry, great songs, and Billy Porter being characteristically iconic.
Release Date: September 3 via Amazon Studios.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Directed by indie whiz kid Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12”), “Shang Chi” won’t arrive with the fanfare of bigger, more well-known Marvel properties, but this new adventure looks to be a flashy, entertaining diversion nonetheless. Simu Liu stars as Shang-Chi himself, and the actor receives assistance from both screen legends like Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh and more fresh faces like Awkwafina, who could very well steal the show here. (Our review).
Release Date: September 3 via Marvel and Disney.

“The Card Counter”
Still buzzing from the overwhelmingly positive response to “First Reformed,” Paul Schrader’s  “The Card Counter” looks like it could be even more of an unflinching journey through the fires of one man’s personal purgatory. Picked up by Focus Features earlier this year, ‘Counter’ will make its international premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival. The film also marks Oscar Isaac’s return to more artful fare, post-”Star Wars”; the star plays the eponymous card counter, who once acted as an interrogator for the U.S. military. Also starring Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish, and Willem Dafoe.
Release Date: September 10 via Focus Features.

John Wick” has yielded lots of bloody revenge movies in its wake, and the genre “twist” of late is the female-led version (see films like “Atomic Blonde” and “Jolt“). Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Martineau, Woody Harrelson, Michiel Huisman, and Tadanobu Asano, “Kate” stars Winstead as an assassin who learns she has only 24 hours left to live from a poisoning, so if she’s going to go on that revenge killing spree in Tokyo, she better get on it and fast. Cedric Nicolas-Troyan (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War“) directs.
Release Date: September 10 via Netflix.

After toying around in different genres (“Aquaman,” “Furious 7”), filmmaker James Wan returns to the jacked-up, human-scaled supernatural horror that made him a household name. Annabelle Wallis stars as a woman haunted by dreams of gruesome slayings, only to have those murderous visions spill over into her real, waking life. Whether or not one responds to Wan’s unapologetically schlocky approach to horror, there’s little doubt that the man is a consummate craftsman at heart, and “Malignant,” at the least, should tide the gorehounds over until the October release of “Halloween Kills.”
Release Date: September 10 via Warner Bros.

“Blue Bayou”
Justin Chon’s “Gook” (2017) was a scorching depiction of 1992’s L.A. riots, and his upcoming “Blue Bayou” sounds like an expansion of his filmmaking humanity, ambition, and scope. Starring the filmmaker himself and Alicia Vikander, Chon’s latest, a romantic drama that channels the Asian immigrant experience apparently takes some stylistic cues from Wong Kar-Wai. Our critic from Cannes said it was more than an issues” movie and “soars” when it focuses on the tender dynamic between its ensemble members.
Release Date: September 17 via Focus Features.

Cry Macho
Following the acclaimed one-two punch of “The Mule” and “Richard Jewell,” Clint Eastwood is on a hot streak. The screen legend’s latest directorial undertaking, “Cry Macho,” looks to be a return to his gritty Western roots. This new buddy dramedy, co-starring Dwight Yoakam, is based on a 1975 novel of the same name by N. Richard Nash and stars Eastwood as an ornery, over-the-hill former rodeo star confronted with the possibility of redemption. If Clint delivers another late-career banger, expect this one to be a sleeper Oscar contender come early next year. Release Date: September 17 via Warner Bros.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” tells the outrageous true story of greed-crazed televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain, playing the Bakkers, appear to have undergone considerable make-up transformations for parts that could be Oscar-worthy. The film is also a fascinating tonal gear-shift for director Michael Showalter, previously known for lighthearted comedies like “The Big Sick” and “The Lovebirds.”
Release Date: September 17 via Searchlight Pictures.

“Dear Evan Hansen”
Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, and Steven Levenson’s award-winning stage musical “Dear Evan Hansen” amassed a robust following in the last decade, and audiences are primed to see it on the big screen. Directed by Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks Of Being A Wallflower”), star Ben Platt will reprise his role from the stage, playing a high schooler struggling with anxiety which, by happenstance, enters into a chance relationship with a mourning family. The film will have its American premiere as part of TIFF 2021’s Opening Night Gala.
Release Date: September 24 via Universal.

September Honorable Mentions:
Those in the mood for ripped-from-the-headlines escapism should look to STX’s outrageous dark comedy “QueenPins,” which stars Kristen Bell, Paul Walter Hauser, Vince Vaughn, and others in a tale of bawdy white-collar crime. September 10 sees the release of “Language Lessons,” the second film from actress/“Plan B” director Natalie Morales, about a man (co-star and producer Mark Duplass) grieving his husband’s death and then forming an unlikely friendship with his Spanish teacher (Morales).

TIFF should yield a lot of great films and potentially more release dates later this year. Top of mind is Theodore Melfi‘s Netflix dramedy “The Starling” with Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline (Sept 17). “Boss Level” director Joe Carnahan will surely be up to his old macho-bloodletting tricks with “Copshop,” an action-comedy-thriller wherein a small-town police station erupts into free-fire carnage (this meathead action item, naturally, stars an off-the-leash Gerard Butler and Carnahan regular Frank Grillo). We’re all quite excited for “Prisoners Of The Ghostland,” yet another Nicolas Cage-starring grindhouse oddity helmed by gifted maniac Sion Sono (“Tokyo Tribe”), and ditto for “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” the musical feature debut of English stage director Jonathan Butterrell, and also “Dating And New York,” which will hopefully give viewers exactly what its title promises. 

Elsewhere, we have the gnarly-sounding horror item “We Need To Do Something,” about a family trapped in their bathroom during a deadly tornado, “Worth” a Netflix-distributed 9/11-era drama starring Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci, and “The Nowhere Inn,” a 2021 Sundance favorite that pairs “Portlandia’sCarrie Brownstein with musician St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark. Other September titles to keep an eye on include “Birds Of Paradise,” “Yakuza Princess,” “The Alpinist,” and “My Name Is Paul Murray.