The 2021 movie calendar is a preview of Hollywood’s new normal

“F9,” the latest sequel to the Fast and Furious, could be one of the first blockbusters since the pandemic.
“F9,” the latest sequel to the Fast and Furious, could be one of the first blockbusters since the pandemic.
Image: Universal Pictures
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If you thought 2020 was a strange year for the movies, get ready for 2021.

The next 12 months are overflowing with major Hollywood titles—some rescheduled from 2020, others slated for 2021 all along—that should help to make up for the pandemic-induced scarcity of films this year. But that’s predicated on two things: the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in the US and around the world, and the confidence of film studios that audiences will return to theaters once things are back to some semblance of normal.

One studio in particular, Warner Bros., is not very confident. (Or, at the very least, it prioritizes streaming growth more than the theater industry.) It already announced all of its 2021 films will debut on its streaming service, HBO Max, on the same day they premiere in theaters. Disney, on the other hand, is moving forward with global theatrical releases for the majority of its 2021 films even though it has a streaming platform of its own, Disney+, that needs content.

This seemingly strange dynamic of film distribution is likely to continue beyond 2021: some major films will still come out exclusively in theaters (how long they stay there, however, is another question), some will go straight to streaming, while the rest will be distributed via some combination of the two.

But, soon, it will be second nature—much in the same way some TV shows still premiere on actual television, while countless others launch on streaming services. Hybrid distribution is the future of film, and 2021 is your chance to get used to it.

Here are some of the biggest films to expect in 2021, along with where you’ll be able to watch them:

There are a few things to note about this calendar. First, it’s tentative. Very tentative.

Since most estimates are that vaccines won’t be available to the majority of healthy adults until May at the earliest, all of the films currently scheduled for theatrical release in the first half of 2021 are extremely liable to be postponed to the second half of the year or relegated to streaming services. Expect more change to the list above.

The list also does not include the more than 50 original films Netflix plans to release in 2021—some of which, like The Woman in the Window, it bought from other studios that didn’t want to deal with scheduling another theatrical release. Netflix, of course, doesn’t have that problem. It releases its movies whenever it wants.

Lots of other films, like Disney’s live-action adaptation of Pinocchio, will debut on streaming services, but don’t yet have firm release dates. Expect those to be announced in the next few months.

Still, despite all the obituaries for the movie theater you may have read this year, you’ll note that the majority of significant Hollywood films are still slated for theaters in 2021. Streaming is undoubtedly becoming a central component of the global entertainment industry, but studios are not yet ready to abandon theaters entirely.

But it’s no longer safe to assume most movies will have theatrical releases. Casual moviegoers should consider becoming more acquainted with the studios behind each film—beyond recognizing their catchy intro theme music. Knowing the studios will help consumers figure out how and where the movies they’re interested in will be released.