The final months of 2020 saw the streaming wars escalate with both Disney and Warner Bros. throwing down the gauntlet, teasing fans with brand-name blockbusters, franchise-friendly series and a parade of big-screen movies soon to be streaming at a portal near you.
This week, the studio that kicked off the streaming revolution announced its 2021 slate of films. With 70 titles, Netflix is promising a new movie every week — far more than the 17 new films Warner Bros. plans to stream on HBO Max in 2021.
Perhaps more surprising is how the studio is differentiating itself. In an industry where originality can be hard to come by, Netflix is embracing what most major studios have moved on from: the middle-sized movie.
Not quite a blockbuster, not quite an indie darling, the new slate of films features plenty of original concepts with star power, not nostalgia, as the main selling feature.
Below, some of the best bets worth waiting for.
Army of the Dead
Director Zack Snyder began his grim and gritty career with the 2004 zombie remake of Dawn of the Dead. Now he’s back with Army of the Dead, which adds a Vegas heist and Dave Bautista to the mix.
Canadian director Mark Raso has shown a talent for ruminative character studies with Kodachrome and Copenhagen. With Awake he appears to be dipping into something more speculative. The film takes place after an event wipes out all electronics and the ability to sleep. Stars Gina Rodriguez.
Director Andrew Dominik’s films Killing Them Softly and The Assassination of Jesse James take place at the intersection of wounded male ego, pride and violence. Now he’s shifting his gaze to tell the story of Marilyn Monroe with Cuban Ana de Armas as the American bombshell.
From director Gitanjali Rao, Bombay Rose looks to be a luscious animated film about the love between a Hindu girl and Muslim boy. Set in an Indian city, the hand-painted film was featured at TIFF in 2019.
Netflix reportedly shelled out $20 million US for Halle Berry’s directorial debut. The film follows a mixed martial arts fighter who is struggling to re-establish a relationship with her son. Halle Berry says she was struck by the screenplay which was originally built around a 20-something Irish-Catholic fighter and changed it so she could play the role. When the right director wasn’t available, Berry stepped in.
Idris Elba fans may flock to the film based around the true-life Black urban-cowboys of North Philadelphia. Elba sitting tall in the saddle may be marketing muscle, but this is really Caleb McLaughlin’s film (last seen in Stranger Things).
Don’t Look Up
Where was this hiding? Adam McKay, the filmmaker behind The Big Short, is back with this star-packed film featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep and Matthew Perry. With a story about astronomers warning about a world-smashing asteroid, it will be interesting to see how McKay pivots from more politically minded features.
I Care A Lot
This black comedy made the rounds at TIFF 2020 and stars Rosamund Pike as an amoral legal guardian looking to swindle Dianne Wiest. Features a great turn by Peter Dinklage as a criminal used to getting his way.
Malcolm & Marie
Coming Feb.5, Zendaya collaborated with Euphoria creator Sam Levinson to shoot this intimate character study during the pandemic. The black and white film features Tenet’s John David Washington as a filmmaker who is supposed to be celebrating when the evening takes a turn.
With Luce and Waves Kelvin Harrison Jr. has established a reputation as an actor who creates magnetic, visceral performances. (I adored Waves, check it out.) Now he’s back at the centre of Monster, playing another multilayered character ensnared by a murder plot.
Here’s the big one with the big guns and the budget to match. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson teamed up with Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot for this $160 million action film about a global hunt for Interpol’s two most wanted criminals. Reynolds was great fun needling The Rock in Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw. No surprise Johnson recruited the charismatic Canadian again.
Take Bend it Like Beckham, set in India and make it about skateboarding and you have Skater Girl, a new film from Manjari Makijany about a teen in rural India who dreams of competing at the national level.
While I couldn’t stick with Jason Momoa’s See on Apple TV+, I’ll happily click on what looks like an amped-up revenge story with Momoa as a husband hell-bent on protecting his daughter. Watch out Liam Neeson, he’s coming for your turf.
The Power of Dog
Any new film from New Zealand director Jane Campion is an event. A new film starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Manitoba-born Adam Beach is worth waiting for. Cumberbatch and Plemons play brothers in what appears to be a twisted family drama based on the novel by Thomas Savage.
To All The Boys: Always and Forever
I’ve missed Lana Condor, haven’t you? The continuing adventures of Lara Jean wrap up in February with the final instalment based on the books by Jenny Han.
Tick,Tick … BOOM!
Warner Bros. may have Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In the Heights, but Netflix has the Hamilton creator’s directorial debut. The film stars Andrew Garfield as a New Yorker in the 90s who dreams of writing the next great musical.
WATCH | Netflix previews 70 new films it will stream in 2021: