Most of us won’t be going to the movies anytime soon. Theaters have been closed for months, and plans to reopen have been in constant flux. We've already missed a summer's worth of blockbusters, a number of which have been delayed indefinitely. While the most anticipated movies of 2020 turn into the most anticipated movies of 2021, here’s an overview of what’s been delayed — and some similar film recommendations you can watch in the meantime.
Every Christopher Nolan movie is an event unto itself. He’s the rare filmmaker who’s as popular with critics as he is at the box office, and the director of Inception, Dunkirk, and The Dark Knight was set to blow moviegoers’ minds this summer with a mysterious new project called Tenet. Starring BlacKkKlansman breakout star John David Washington (as in, son of Denzel) as an operative trying to prevent World War III, its supporting cast includes Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine, Dimple Kapadia, and Kenneth Brannagh. Warner Bros. originally put Tenet on the docket for July 17 before incrementally pushing the date back. It is currently set to open in select American cities on September 3 and will gradually expand to other locations in the following weeks; whether that plan proves viable remains to be seen.
What to Watch Instead: Looper
Nolan is famously tight-lipped about the plots of his movies, so few specific details are known about Tenet. We do know that it’s an action movie that plays with time, however, making Looper a fitting substitute. The 2012 sci-fi thriller starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, and Emily Blunt concerns contract killers known as loopers who travel back in time to take out their victims; suffice to say that things get complicated when Gordon-Levitt’s character realizes his next target … himself. Watch it with a free trial on fuboTV or rent it on Amazon.
2. The New Mutants
Spare a thought for this Marvel movie, which had already been delayed for more than two years, even before the pandemic. Originally slated for an April 2018 release, it was pushed back to February 2019 to avoid competing with Deadpool 2 and to allow time for reshoots that were intended to give the film a more horror-inflected vibe. It was then moved back another six months to avoid being released at the same time as Dark Phoenix (probably smart considering New Mutants stars Maisie Williams, best known for playing Arya Stark in Game of Thrones; Dark Phoenix starred Sophie Turner, her Westerosi sister, Sansa). After Disney acquired Fox in March of last year — at which time those reshoots still hadn't taken place — The New Mutants was rescheduled for April 2020. You can probably guess what happened next: COVID-19 shut down movie theaters. Once things began to improve, however, it was given a new date of August 28. That’s still officially the plan, but color us skeptical.
What to Watch Instead: Chronicle
The obvious answer would be any other big-budget superhero movie, but 2012’s sleeper hit Chronicle is more apropos. It too follows a group of teenagers (including Creed and Black Panther star Michael B. Jordan) whose powers are both a gift and a curse they struggle to control. It’s the rare film that somehow manages to make the found-footage format feel fresh. Cinemax and DirecTV subscribers can watch it on their respective streaming services, while the rest of us will more likely turn to Amazon.
3. The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated Isle of Dogs is a return to live action. Originally set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, the film’s sprawling ensemble cast includes Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, and Anjelica Huston. Once Cannes 2020 was canceled, however, this story of a Kansas newspaper’s foreign bureau seemed likely to be shelved as well. That's exactly what happened — initially slated for July 24 and then pushed back to October 16, The French Dispatch was pulled from the schedule altogether in late July.
What to Watch Instead: Broadcast News
If you’re already familiar with Wes Anderson’s other movies — and you should be, as everything from Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums to Rushmore and The Grand Budapest Hotel are genuine classics — go the journalism route with 1987’s Broadcast News. James L. Brooks' romantic dramedy is a classic in its own right, with Holly Hunter as a TV news producer alongside Albert Brooks and William Hurt as reporters; Jack Nicholson and Joan Cusack appear as well. This one is also available for DirecTV subscribers and can be rented on Amazon.
Following the success of its live-action remakes of animated classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Cinderella, Disney was set to continue that trend with Mulan. Directed by Whale Rider helmer Niki Caro and starring Liu Yifei in the title role, Mulan’s production budget of $200 million makes it the most expensive movie ever directed by a woman.
The studio will have to wait a while to see a return on that investment, as the original release date of November 2018 was moved to March 27 of this year following an unrelated delay. After premiering in Hollywood on March 9, its scheduled release was moved back to July and then August. The current plan is to make it available on Disney+ for $29.99 (in addition to the monthly subscription cost of $6.99) on September 4. If that sounds like a lot, fret not — there are alternatives.
What to Watch Instead: The New World
If you’re in the mood for a historical epic about a woman who has become a legend, Terrence Malick’s The New World is a live-action look at Pocahontas that bears zero resemblance to Disney’s animated version (which it isn’t based on). A lyrical, visually arresting romance starring Q'orianka Kilcher as the Native American woman who eventually changed her name to Rebecca Rolfe, the 2005 movie inverts America’s creation myth into something more beautiful, profound, and bittersweet. You can rent it on Amazon (be sure to go with the extended cut).
5. Wonder Woman 1984
Prior to the critical and commercial success of 2017’s Wonder Woman, the DC Extended Universe wasn’t doing so hot. Disappointing entries like Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were a far cry from what fans were hoping for, especially considering that they were being compared to Marvel’s most successful movies. Director Patty Jenkins and star Gal Gadot helped turn things around for the DCEU, and their sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, was one of this year’s most anticipated films.
Even prior to COVID-19, the film’s release date had bounced around more than once. Warner Bros. originally slated the film for December 2019 before moving it up to November 1; it was then delayed until June 5. After theaters closed in March, Wonder Woman 1984 was pushed back to August, and it is currently set to come out on October 2.
What to Watch Instead: Aliens
If it’s a strong action hero you seek, look no further than Ellen Ripley and 1986’s Aliens. The second film in this otherworldly sci-fi franchise is also the most action-packed, with the single xenomorph from the first film replaced by countless baddies. HBO subscribers can stream the James Cameron-directed Aliens on all of the company’s streaming platforms, ditto DirecTV.
6. Top Gun: Maverick
Maverick is back … almost. Tom Cruise reprised his role as the hotshot pilot in this sequel to Top Gun, 34 years after the movie that helped solidify his star power. His return was originally set for July 2019, but Top Gun: Maverick was pushed back a full year to June 2020. As theaters began closing, the studio rescheduled for December, but has since delayed it again to July 2, 2021.
What to Watch Instead: The Right Stuff
With apologies to Top Gun, the best movie ever made about the Air Force is 1983’s The Right Stuff. Philip Kaufman's epic drama about the test pilots who helped make spaceflight possible is an all-timer, thanks in large part to the performances by Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Sam Shepard, Fred Ward, Dennis Quaid, and Barbara Hershey. Despite being a box-office letdown, it won four Academy Awards and was nominated for four others (including Best Picture). HBO subscribers can stream this one as well.
7. A Quiet Place Part II
Who knew Jim from The Office was such a good director? John Krasinski also co-wrote and starred in 2018’s A Quiet Place alongside his wife Emily Blunt, and the result was an unusually intimate, effective thriller that made beaucoup bucks at the box office. Like Mulan, A Quiet Place Part II premiered in early March and was slated for release later that month. It was then delayed until Labor Day weekend and will now open theatrically on April 23, 2021.
What to Watch Instead: The Tribe
If you’ve already seen Bird Box — and, considering it’s one of Netflix’s most-viewed original films, you probably have — you already know that it’s almost an unintentional companion piece to A Quiet Place. Less popular but even more accomplished is The Tribe, which has one of the most daring premises in recent memory: Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy's 2014 drama takes place at a Ukrainian boarding school for deaf teenagers and is filmed entirely in sign language … without any subtitles. It’s surprisingly easy to follow despite that, not to mention extremely unsettling. Watch it for free on tubi or Pluto TV.
Featured image credit: KLH49/ iStock