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Warner Brothers Movies You Won't Want To Miss On HBO Max In 2021

HBO Max, launched in May of 2020, has already left a colossal and utterly unprecedented impact on the entertainment industry. Whether or not it's a good impact depends on who you ask. 

Enclosed rooms where strangers breathe each other's air have been highly sketchy ever since the COVID-19 pandemic came to America back in early spring of 2020. Since nobody really has any idea when movie theaters will be safe again, Warner Bros. is releasing all 17 films it has on deck for 2021 on the new streaming service the same day they individually arrive in whatever theaters happen to be open.

This bold move works out pretty great for HBO Max and its subscribers, but maybe not so great for already fiscally-devastated cineplexes.

"No one wants films back on the big screen more than we do," says Ann Sarnoff, WarnerMedia chair and CEO, according to Variety. "We know new content is the lifeblood of theatrical exhibition, but we have to balance this with the reality that most theaters in the U.S. will likely operate at reduced capacity throughout 2021." 

Needless to say, not everyone is pleased with Warner Bros. decision. Christopher Nolan is very unhappyDenis Villeneuve is also dissatisfied with the situation, to put it mildly. But us regular shmucks get to see a pile of blockbusters without potentially exposing ourselves to a deadly virus, so it all balances out, right? 

Here are a handful of flicks we're especially psyched for... 

Wonder Woman 1984 (12/25/20)

While most of the initial offerings from the DC Extended Universe ran into polarized reactions from critics and audiences, Wonder Woman (2017) fared much better. The Patty Jenkins-directed blockbuster provided a much-needed jolt of optimism into a shared universe that had stumbled down an excessively dour path, and established Princess Diana of Themyscira as the first marquee movie superhero of the modern era with a matching set of X chromosomes. 

The onscreen chemistry between Diana (Gal Gadot) and handsome fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) outsmokes the romantic subplots in basically every other superhero movie by a mile. So, despite his character's circumstances at the end of the first film, maybe it's not such a bad thing that Pine resurrects his role in the sequel. He's joined by a pair of big bads from Diana's ink-and-wood-pulp-based adventures — deranged archeologist Barbara Minerva, a.k.a. Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), and equally deranged inventor and mind controller Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal). 

In one of the trailers, Wonder Woman uses her magic lasso like one of Spider-Man's webs and swings from frickin' lighting bolts. Sustaining that degree of awesomeness for two hours is scientifically impossible, but we're excited to see Jenkins and company give it the ol' college try.

Technically, Wonder Woman 1984 arrived on Christmas Day, 2020. But since, like the other films on this list, it'll be available on HBO Max for 31 days following its release, it'll be streaming for a much larger portion of 2021 than 2020. 

The Matrix 4 (12/22/21)

As was the case back before we saw the first one in 1999, we know basically nothing about the upcoming Matrix movie. 

This third sequel to what some have described as the greatest sci-fi film of all time sees Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their iconic roles of Neo and Trinity. Meanwhile, newcomers Jessica Henwick (Iron Fist, On The Rocks) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Watchmen, The Trial of the Chicago 7) both presumably spend part of the film questioning the nature of reality. 

Inexplicably, this will be the first Matrix movie without Laurence Fishburne playing Morpheus, Neo's mentor figure, and the first to feature Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) in some yet-to-be-disclosed capacity. 

In an interview with BBC's The One Show, Reeves describes writer-director Lana Wachowski's screenplay as "a beautiful...love story." 

He continues, "It's inspiring...It's another version of a kind of call to wake up, and it has some great action." 

Despite the mixed reactions to the previous two sequels, The Matrix definitely endures better than a lot of late-'90s pop culture. So as long as Reeves, or at least one of the other actors, wears sunglasses during the daytime and blows a bunch of things up, The Matrix 4 should go over just fine. 

Godzilla Vs. Kong (5/21/21)

For generations, fans have asked, "If Godzilla fought King Kong, who would win?" And other fans have answered, "Godzilla, obviously. He's much, much bigger than King Kong. Plus, Godzilla easily brushes off the Japanese military in just about every movie he's in, whereas Kong can't even survive a fall off the Empire State Building." 

But now, responding to the second group of fans, Warner Bros. says, "Okay, but what if King Kong was just as big as Godzilla? Now who wins? Not so easy to figure out, is it, Mr. Smarty Pants?!?!"

The handful of movies comprising Legendary Entertainment's MonsterVerse – Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) — culminate in 2021 when the famous metaphor for nuclear war takes on the equally-famous metaphor for colonialism. Adam Wingard of Blair Witch (2016) and V/H/S fame directs, and if GvK successfully melds Wingard's indie horror sensibility with an old school giant creature spectacle, then the MonsterVerse's fictionalized version of human civilization is royally screwed. 

Dune (10/1/21)

Last time Hollywood took a swing at adapting Frank Herbert's 1965 sci-fi lit essential Dune in 1984, the critical and box office response was a humiliating catastrophe for everyone involved. The experience traumatized David Lynch away from big studio filmmaking, and pushed him in an anti-establishment creative direction that resulted in his arthouse tentpole Blue Velvet (1986). So if the consequence of a worst-case-scenario Dune movie is Blue Velvet, then those of us in the movie-viewing public find ourselves in a major win-win situation here.   

But really, we have no reason to expect Denis Villeneuve's Dune to go the route of Lynch's iteration. In fact, Villeneuve already proved himself extra-adept at updating classic sci-fi on a massive scale with Blade Runner 2049 (2017). You know how the story of Dune requires star Timothée Chalamet to spend loads of time walking around in a desert with a pensive expression on his face? Villeneuve is a master at directing scenes like that! Blade Runner 2049 is full of them! Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Dave Bautista, and Josh Brolin fill out the cast alongside Chalamet, and perhaps we'll also see them wander through a space desert and make ruminative faces as they do so.

The Suicide Squad (8/6/21)

Anybody remember back in 2018 when a Twitter mob took issue with James Gunn's politics, feigned offense at some terrible jokes he made 10 years prior, and got him fired from directing the third Guardians of the Galaxy picture? Well, Warner Bros. subsequently hired Gunn to revamp the Suicide Squad franchise, then Disney hired him back to direct another Guardians anyway. So thanks to the aforementioned swarm of trolls, Gunn has more money and influence than ever. How'd ya like them apples, trolls? 

The utterly bonkers cast of The Suicide Squad reads like a whimsical grab bag of familiar action and comedy faces. Margot Robbie, Viola Davis, and Jai Courtney all return from the first Suicide Squad (2016). The new outfit includes Michael Rooker, Idris Elba, John Cena — who's already got a spinoff show out of this deal — Nathan Fillion, Alice Braga, David Dastmalchian, Peter Capaldi, Pete Davidson, and according to IMDB, Sylvester Stallone and Taika Waititi.

We cannot understate that these Hollywood big shots almost all play C-and-D-list DC villains with names like The Polka-Dot Man, who perpetrate and/or wind up victimized by a degree of violence mandating a hard R from the Motion Picture Association. It's all filtered through the imagination of the guy who made Rocket Raccoon and Groot household names. And this time around, Jared Leto doesn't play a vampire Juggalo other characters call "The Joker" for no apparent reason.  

Sounds pretty rad, right?

Judas and the Black Messiah (TBD)

When we tell the grandkids about 2020 someday, they'll want to hear about the pandemic, the election, and the protests.

Participating in the ongoing struggle for equal rights in America tends to inspire curiosity in like-minded organizations that came before, so some might say the timing for Judas and the Black Messiah feels entirely appropriate. Others might suggest it's closer to long overdue. 

Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out/Black Panther) plays prominent Black Panther Party activist Fred Hampton, alongside LaKeith Stanfield (Sorry To Bother You/Knives Out) as reluctant FBI informant William O'Neal. Jesse Plemons (Todd the Nazi from Breaking Bad) depicts O'Neal's handler at the FBI, and Martin Sheen (The West Wing) portrays FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. 

For anyone familiar with 20th century history, it's probably not a spoiler to note that Judas... ends in tragedy. But judging by the trailer, Shaka King has directed a brutal first person perspective on the historical relationship between American law enforcement and protest movements. Just because we already know how it ends doesn't mean we understand the whole story. 

In The Heights (6/18/21)

Here at Looper, we mostly focus on sci-fi and fantasy movies and television shows, so we only found out who Lin-Manuel Miranda was when Hamilton became a crossover sensation during the second half of the 2010s. But as it turns out, before the actor-composer made the Founding Fathers hip for the first time since the 1700s, he wrote another play called In The Heights

From what we can glean from the trailer, it appears vaguely similar to Do The Right Thing except the main character works at a bodega instead of a pizza parlor, and the music is uplifting and orchestral instead of "Fight the Power" by Public Enemy. It also kind of looks how we imagine Rent (2005) was supposed to look before all the stuff that went wrong with the Rent movie went wrong. 

If In The Heights takes Hamilton's sonic sensibilities and applies them to current American struggles rather than the woe of yesteryear's powdered wig-wearing population, then let's hope it redeems the genre of musical theater adaptations after that unpleasant, feline-associated beating it took in 2018.   

The Many Saints of Newark (3/12/21)

Prequels can be a risky prospect. Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me certainly have vocal advocates. But upon their debuts, neither received warm welcomes from the moviegoing masses. However, if Vince Gilligan can crack the code for a successful prequel with Better Call Saul, perhaps its only natural that Breaking Bad's cultural antecedent would likewise let its fans know what happened decades before the events of The Sopranos.

For The Many Saints of Newark, Creator David Chase returns as a co-writer, along with veteran Sopranos director Alan Taylor. Michael Gandolfini accepts the mantle of Tony Soprano from his father James Gandolfini, who died in 2013. Jon Bernthal, who has been remarkably busy lately, it would seem, also does some mobster or mobster-related business in the film. 

Serious Sopranos fans talk about the series as though it's the greatest creative achievement in human history, which means expectations for The Many Saints of Newark are already insanely, unrealistically high. Are diehard denizens of The Sopranos audience more emotionally stable than the median Star Wars fan? Looks like we're about to find out...

Mortal Kombat (4/16/21)

In the early '90s, the photo-realistic characters and over-the-top blood 'n guts from the original Mortal Kombat arcade machine opened up whole new possibilities for video games as a storytelling genre. But at the time, in terms of visuals, film remained the superior medium by a mile. Nowadays, the distinction between digitally-created video games and live action movies looks a lot blurrier. There's nothing a film studio's SFX budget can do that a video game can't replicate. So what's the purpose of a Mortal Kombat movie in 2021? Why did someone decide to make this thing? 

Well, the fact that the original MK movie from 1995 remains a rare financial success amongst the notoriously dicey genre of movies based on video games couldn't have hurt. And even if the two mediums have become equals in terms of their aesthetic capacity, video games are still time consuming and a little expensive. Maybe some of us like the idea of following Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, and all the other murderers without spending weeks button mashing and getting killed repeatedly by our awful roommate Matty before we finally get good enough to finish story mode. A Mortal Kombat game might be hard, but in theory, a Mortal Kombat movie is far less demanding.

Space Jam: A New Legacy (7/16/21)

The original Space Jam (1996) was much closer to an 88-minute advertisement than what we typically think of as a movie. Further complicating matters for the prospect of a sequel: its preteen target demographic have grown into their 30s by now. In theory, you would hope their tastes in cinema have grown too sophisticated to endure a shameless Who Framed Roger Rabbit? wannabe with a basketball gimmick. In theory, you would hope they would know better than to subject the current generation of young children to such blatant commercialism at such an impressionable age.

In practice, you'd be giving us too much credit. 

Okay, so we admit we are not sufficiently poisoned by '90s nostalgia to talk about Space Jam without an arm's length of ironic distance. However, considering Black Panther's Ryan Coogler co-authored the script and signed on to co-produce, it seems plausible, maybe even likely, that this'll be an improvement on the first one.

King Richard (11/19/21)

During his career, Will Smith has portrayed a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, a man in black, a bunch of different law enforcement agents who play by their own rules, an assassin who fights Batman, and a genie. With King Richard, the once and future fresh prince tackles his most dynamic role yet, as a, uh...(checks notes)...tennis coach?...Huh.

Of course, Venus and Serena Williams — played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton in this biopic — are their generation's most significant and widely-recognized tennis champs. But if a story about their father and coach Richard Williams sounds a little less thrilling than many of Smith's previous projects, keep in mind, somebody went to the trouble of suing humanity's most successful rapper-turned-actor in an attempt to hang on to the intellectual property rights. So if multiple people think this story is worth going to court over, odds are they genuinely think it's worth telling.  

Best known for roles including the homicidal vigilante Frank Castle in The Punisher (2017) and unstable former cop Shane Walsh on The Walking Dead (2010)Jon Bernthal co-stars as...(checks notes again) also a tennis coach! Outstanding. 

Those Who Wish Me Dead (TBD)

If you're a member of a certain age group born into a middle or upper middle class demographic, you probably went on some form of survival-related, skill-honing forest camping expedition during your youth. If those programs were not available to you, don't feel bad. Exploring nature is horrible.  

But if you can remember or imagine Boy Scout camp or a similar experience, add paid killers sent to snuff you out in order to prevent your future testimony at a murder trial. Now set the forest on fire (in your imagination). Now bring in Angelina Jolie to help you out of this very tough situation you find yourself in. Now you understand how to feels to be the main character of Those Who Wish Me Dead

Based on a novel by Michael Koryta, this one's directed by Sons of Anarchy star Taylor Sheridan. In addition to Jolie, the cast includes Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones), Nicholas Hoult (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Tyler Perry (all the Tyler Perry movies and television shows). And even though he must have made The Many Saints of Newark and King Richard in roughly the same time frame, Jon Bernthal also somehow found time to appear in this film.

Reminiscence (TBD)

For some of us, Hugh Jackman's time portraying mutant badass Wolverine tends to overshadow his substantial accomplishments outside of the X-Men umbrella. This is unfortunate, as there's much more to Jackman than stabbing people, cutting people, and having unbreakable metal bones. For instance, his turn as corrupt school superintendent Frank Tassone provides the crux of Bad Education, one of 2019's most underrated films.

Meanwhile, reactions to HBO's Westworld have grown increasingly uneven since roughly the start of the second season. But the occasionally-cerebral action series maintains a high degree of style, even if the substance may be lacking from time to time. A self-contained, 90-minute story could allow Westworld showrunner and Reminiscence director Lisa Joy to dodge some of the pitfalls of long-term serialized television. 

So let's use our imaginations to combine the face of one of this era's most famous superheroes with the minds behind one of its most polarizing sci-fi franchises, and add a story about searching through the memories of a killer who is also maybe your girlfriend. At minimum, it'll be interesting. 

If those aren't enough to get you through a binge-watching weekend, check out the other best movies on HBO Max.