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The Best Summer 2021 Movies to Watch Right Now

With schools and universities already in their fall term/starting soon and the summer winding to an end, it’s time to gradually shift focus from vaxxed vacations, 5:00 am game nights, sleepovers, etc. to academics, work, relationships, and more grounded matters. Still, before we do, here are the biggest, loudest films of the season you don’t want to miss:

In the heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Starring: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Stephanie Beatriz

Where to Watch: In theaters, HBO Max

Before the critical acclaim of Hamilton, Miranda wrote another successful hip-hop/rap-inspired musical that depicts the multicultural and generational struggles of a Latinx community and their dreams of a better life. Weaving together themes of immigration, discrimination, assimilation, gentrification, heritage, identity, nationality, and romance, this star-studded adaption of the 2008 Tony Award-winning best musical delivers a joyful, passion-filled story of desire, hope, consequence, and community, reminding pandemic viewers of the importance and comfort in pulling together in times of hardship.

Warner Brothers/YouTube
Summer of Soul (Or, When the revolution could not be televised)

Director: Ahmir Thompson (Questlove)

Where to Watch: In theaters, Hulu

Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the (virtual) 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Summer of Soul is a remarkable celebration of Black culture and history, documenting the overlooked 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, tentatively dubbed “Black Woodstock.” This striking, unearthed footage features staggering performances by Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, Mahalia Jackson, and many more.


Director: Enrico Casarosa

Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Saverio Raimondo

Where to Watch: In theaters, Disney+

Set in the 1950s along the Italian Riviera, Pixar’s latest depicts a heartfelt coming-of-age tale between two best friends, Luca and Alberto, as they experience the summer of their lives. The catch? They’re sea monsters who must disguise themselves on land whilst exploring Italian culture and adventure, fending off pompous Vespa-loving bullies, and navigating budding relationships and identities. Am I sensing a Call Me by Your Name-esque queer metaphor here?

Shang-Chi and the LEgend of the ten rings

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Meng’er Zhang

Where to Watch: In theaters

It’s about time we get a Southeast Asian superhero on the silver screen, and Marvel’s Shang-Chi transcends all expectations. Releasing exclusively in theaters, a first for Disney since Covid-19 shut down the movie industry in March 2020, Shang-Chi is a riveting, pulsating, action-induced film that exhibits some of cinema’s best martial arts scenes, smoothly blending Marvel’s formulaic origin story with Chinese and Asian American culture, exploring the East-West (traditional vs modern) dichotomy in a way that’s grounded and purposeful. Simu Liu as the titular character – the son of an immortal warlord who must confront his dark past – is simply outstanding, a definite fan-favorite and welcome (albeit late) addition to the MCU’s ever-expanding lineup.


Written, directed, filmed, produced, and edited by and starring: Bo Burnham

Where to Watch: Netflix

“Well, well look who’s inside again. Went out to look for a reason to hide again. Well, well buddy you found it. Come out with your hands now, we’ve got you surrounded.”Inside, Bo Burnham

If there’s any movie on this list that screams Gen Z, it’s Inside – a virtuosic musical masterpiece that reflects the fractured, tormented mentality of the 30-year-old comedian and the isolated state of humanity given our overreliance on technology, social media, and the Internet as well as our sudden apathy and selfishness wrought by quarantine and Covid-19. Nominated for 6 Emmys, Inside is an astonishing, slightly unnerving metacommentary on the sociopolitical, economic, and cultural “structures” of civilization, forcing individuals to grapple with their own fleeting existence and morality amidst Burnham’s raw reflection and criticism of human nature and reality. Take a deep breath because we’re “staying inside” for this one.

Netflix is a Joke/YouTube

Director: Liesl Tommy

Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige, Tituss Burgess

Where to Watch: In theaters

Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin in this glistening biopic that chronicles the singer’s tumultuous childhood to eventual stardom as the Queen of Soul. Selected by Franklin herself before her death in 2019 and featuring a stellar cast, this biographical drama merits the Respect it deserves.


Director: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong

Where to Watch: In theaters, Disney+

The stylish origin story of Disney’s most debonair diva, Cruella is the latest addition to the reverse “villain” narrative that posits its nominal character as the protagonist/anti-hero, humanizing their perspective and enhancing their appeal – honestly, more so than the “hero’s”. Following the likes of Maleficent, Harley Quinn, and Loki, the film centers on co-stars Emma Stone’s Estella—an aspiring fashion designer with an eye for Dalmatian fur—and Emma Thompson’s Baroness—Estella’s intimidating boss— and their charged dynamic in a dashing, well-acted, and eccentric manner.

Walt Disney Studios/YouTube
Black Widow

Director: Cate Shortland

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone

Where to Watch: In theaters, Disney+

Poised as a prequel of sorts and positioned between the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War and 2018’s Avengers Infinity War, Black Widow sees Natasha Romanoff branded as a fugitive and forced to confront her dark, secretive Russian operative past, effectively returning Marvel to the silver screen after a 2-year absence due to Covid-19 and launching its auspicious Phase 4. Packed with explosive, high-thrill action, dysfunctional family bonds, and soft, introspective moments, Black Widow is a must-see for any Marvel fan, especially since it’s the last (foreseeable) big-screen production for one of pop culture’s most iconic and beloved superheroines.

the Green Knight

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Dev Patel, Ralph Ineson, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris

Where to Watch: In theaters, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, Youtube, Vudu

For those searching for another dark fantasy series to fulfill that insatiable void (I’m looking at you GOT, Shadow and Bone, and LOTR), A’24’s latest film, an epic medieval adaptation of the Arthurian legend “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, should suffice. Starring Dev Patel as King Arthur’s formidable nephew and teeming with daring quests, brutal battles, gallant romance, and malevolent, mysterious foes, the Green Knight features a valiant journey of self-discovery and confrontation and should satisfy even the most casual fantasy-goer.

The Suicide Squad

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, Sylvester Stallone, John Cena, Jennifer Holland

Where to Watch: In theaters, HBO Max

Billed as a “standalone sequel” to the 2016 pop-cultural success/critical failure Suicide Squad (yes, the article difference is that significant) and directed by Guardian of the Galaxy’s James Gunn, this soft-reboot is an explosive, enthralling joyride that revamps familiar faces (Robbie’s spirited Harley Quinn) and introduces fresh ones (hello Idris Elba’s Bloodsport) for a rousing, gleefully bloody anti-hero adventure. Though not entirely bold or new, this chaotic, gory-filled escapade is sure to provide the villainous fun it promotes.

A Quiet Place PArt II

Director: John Krasinski

Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou

Where to Watch: In theaters, Paramount+

The sequel to the 2018 post-apocalyptic horror film where a single sound elicits danger (an opposite Birdbox if you will), A Quiet Place II pairs Emily Blunt with a new cast of talent, promising more suspense, thrill, and terror than its predecessor. While not as artful as the original, this gripping follow-up maintains the intense, dire state of tautness and precarity that drove the first to success, seizing audiences and serving as a distant reflection of our current pandemic-induced alienation and fear.

Paramount Pictures/YouTube

Director: Justin Lin

Starring: Vin Diesel, John Cena, Charlize Theron, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Michelle Rodriguez

Where to Watch: In theaters, Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, Apple TV

Already circulating as viral audio on TikTok (even spawning several variations of the original “family is more powerful than the TVA” trend), Fast & Furious’s family-driven plot takes center stage in this 9th installment of the vehicle-toting, high-octane series that somehow keeps producing more and more films. At this point, I’m just here for the wicked action sequences and warm camaraderie F9 ensures on supplying.

The Fast Saga/YouTube

In addition to these titles, check out these other films: Zola, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Jungle Cruise, Coda, which also garnered attention this past season. Although summer may be over, Covid-19 is still prevalent and rampant, so masks, as well as vaccinations, are strongly encouraged in most theaters. Happy viewing!!!

Anna van Eekeren is a second-year Entertainment and Media Studies major at UGA with a minor in Film Studies. She is passionate about the environment, social justice, culture, and media. She enjoys reading, writing, playing video games, listening to music, swimming, traveling, and taking personality quizzes.
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