2020 felt an awful lot like a science fiction film, didn’t it? Living through a deadly global pandemic launched us right into Contagion and World War Z territory, while the empty shelves at grocery stores and toilet paper frenzy were straight out of a dystopian drama or a zombie thriller. If you had to swear off sci-fi movies while living through it all, we don’t blame you. But with the year still young, we’re staying hopeful about the remainder of 2021: pandemic- and film slate-wise.
This year, now that we can stomach sci-fi a bit better, the genre is roaring back with a slate of can’t-miss movies launching in theaters and streaming from home. We can look forward to big-budget blockbuster adaptations of seminal sci-fi novels, as well as exciting original projects. With the return of beloved franchises like Ghostbusters and The Matrix, we can get our sci-fi fix and fall down the nostalgia rabbit hole at the same time. Whether you’re into aliens, robots, or time travel, the year in science fiction has something for everyone. Take a gander at our preview of the year in sci-fi cinema, and set your phasers to stunned.
Chaos Walking – March 5
Daisy Ridley and Esquire cover star Tom Holland star in this dystopian film about a distant planet colonized by humans, where all the women have died or disappeared, and all the men are afflicted by “The Noise,” a mysterious malady by which everyone can hear one another’s thoughts. When Viola (Ridley) crash lands on the planet, Todd (Holland) is astonished to encounter the first woman he’s ever met, as well as the first person not afflicted by The Noise. Based on a popular trilogy by Patrick Ness, beginning with The Knife of Letting Go, Chaos Walking promises a riveting story featuring two of Hollywood’s brightest young stars.
Free Guy – May 21
Who but Ryan Reynolds could head up this metafictive black comedy about a bank teller who discovers that he is, in fact, a non-playable character in a video game? Thanks to a program inserted into the game by developers, Guy (Reynolds) has a Truman Show-style awakening to the nature of his reality. He then plots to re-cast himself as the hero, racing against time before the developers shut down the game for good.
Infinite -May 28
Director Antoine Fuqua returns with a big-screen adaptation of D. Eric Maikranz’s The Reincarnationist Papers, starring Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Wahlberg plays Evan McCauley, a troubled man who discovers that his hallucinations are actually memories from his past lives. Evan believes himself to be alone in his plight, until he encounters a secret society of fellow Reinarnationists, who will admit him to their ranks—if he can prove that he qualifies.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife – June 11
The long-awaited latest Ghostbusters sequel arrives this summer at last, with Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts set to reprise their roles from the original film. This sequel picks up in Oklahoma, where a single mother (Carrie Coon) and her two children have inherited a farm from her late father, OG Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. When the town is rocked by a series of mysterious earthquakes, the children, along with their teacher (played by Paul Rudd) uncover their link to the Ghostbusters, who have become something of a tall tale. Directed by Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, Ghostbusters: Afterlife promises a winning return to form for the beloved franchise.
Old – July 23
In M. Night Shyamalan’s latest cinematic nightmare, a family vacationing in the tropics is shocked and horrified to discover that a secluded beach is causing them to age rapidly, reducing their entire lifetimes into a single day.
Bios – August 13
Tom Hanks stars in this post-apocalyptic drama as an ailing inventor, one of the last remaining humans on a ravaged Earth, who builds an android (Caleb Landry Jones) to take care of his dog after he dies. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, a Game of Thrones veteran, Bios promises to be the first science fiction film since I Am Legend to reduce us to sobbing over a dog.
Reminiscence – September 3
From writer and director Lisa Joy, one of the minds behind Westworld, comes a romantic sci-fi thriller about Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), a solitary veteran who lives in a flooded future version of Miami. Nick makes a living by helping clients relive any memory of their choosing, but when a client’s memories implicate his lover Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) in a violent crime, Nick must ferret out the truth about her.
Dune – October 1
After getting bumped from the theatrical slate in 2020, Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited Dune will debut on HBO Max in October. Based on Frank Herbert’s seminal science fiction novel, Dune is set far into the future in an intergalactic feudal society where powerful noble houses fight for control over resources, armies, and planetary power. Timothée Chalamet stars as Paul Atreides, the scion of a powerful house ordered to take control of Arrakis, a barren desert planet with a brutal climate, and the only known home to Melange—a natural resource that produces a drug called Spice, which allows humanity to unlock their minds to perform highly complex tasks. When Paul is targeted as a potential messiah to lead the planet and galaxy toward a new era, an epic story of war, betrayal, and mysticism unfolds.
The Matrix 4 – December 22
It’s been years (almost two decades, actually) since we saw the last installment of The Matrix franchise. After all this time, Lana Wachowski returns with a fourth installment, involving all the main players—Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, and of course, Neo himself, Keanu Reeves.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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