The 25 must-watch movies of the strangest summer ever

Chances are you're going to catch most of these films at home, but there's still plenty of great stuff to choose from.
By EW Staff

Summer, we know, has never really been an indoor sport. It is bike rides and block parties, baseball and barbecue, long lazy days at the beach that leave you sandy-pantsed and sunstruck. But like so much else in life right now, our dreams for the season have had to be drastically altered — redirected toward whatever fun can be conjured when music festivals are canceled, movie blockbusters stand down, and “al fresco” means craning your vitamin D-starved face out the bathroom window.

In a world that feels a little more like Hotel California every day — except you can’t check out any time you like because it’s, you know, your own apartment — it can be hard to imagine that there might be real, sweet substitutes for the things we love and look forward to every year. And, of course, it all depends on exactly what you’re looking for. But there are good reasons to believe that the next three months don’t have to entirely suck — and even that the utter strangeness of these times gives us a chance to appreciate all kinds of movies that might otherwise be pushed to the wayside, or simply dismissed for lack of bandwidth. —Leah Greenblatt

THE BLOCKBUSTERS

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

MULAN: This highly anticipated Disney live-action remake stars Yifei Liu as the titular warrior. Disguising herself as a man, Mulan joins the Chinese army to defend her country and protect her father. Stripping itself of the 1998 animated film’s songs, Mulan is a gritty martial-arts fueled action fest that still honors its girl power roots. Originally slated for a March release, Disney bumped the film to July in the wake of COVID-19 closures. Mulan may be a girl worth fighting for, but she’s also a girl worth waiting for. (Theatrical, July 24) —Maureen Lee Lenker

THE NEW MUTANTS: Once upon a time, Game of ThronesMaisie Williams was cast in a horror-inspired X-Men movie. Think A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Dream Warriors except Freddy Krueger is a giant demon bear, the teens are super-powered mutants, and the rating is PG-13. After three years of delays, the latest due to the coronavirus, it looks like we'll finally get to see Williams fight that bear on the big screen in The New Mutants. (Theatrical, Aug. 28) —Nick Romano

THE OLD GUARD: Between Atomic Blonde and Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron has spent a good chunk of her career beating up bad guys. But her newest role might be her most badass yet: Theron stars in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s action-epic as Andromache of Scythia, the leader of a small band of undying mercenaries. She’s spent the last 6,000-plus years carrying out deadly tasks and perfecting her combat skills, and The Old Guard finds her teaming up with a newly immortal recruit (If Beale Street Could Talk’s KiKi Layne) for her most dangerous mission yet. It’s exactly the kind of action-packed blockbuster this summer has been missing — and with a Netflix release intact, you don’t even have to leave your house to watch it. (Streaming, July 10) —Devan Coggan

TENET: John David Washington’s character is tasked with averting the end of the world in the year’s most top-secret movie. This being a Christopher Nolan joint, we can confirm Tenet features Michael Caine and a plot which explores the nature of time — and almost certainly should be seen on the biggest screen possible. (Theatrical, July 17) —Clark Collis

WONDER WOMAN 1984: This superhero sequel picks up decades after we first met Gal Gadot’s lasso-wielding warrior, this time following Diana as she navigates the neon excess and Cold War intrigue of the ‘80s. There are new foes to fight in Wonder Woman 1984, including Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) and Cheetah (Kristen Wiig), but also some familiar allies — like Chris Pine’s mysteriously resurrected Steve Trevor. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait a little longer for Diana’s return, as Warner Bros. has pushed the film’s release from June to August, but hey, if anyone knows how to wait, it’s Gadot’s ageless Amazon. (Theatrical, Aug. 14) —Devan Coggan

THE COMEDIES

Focus Features

AN AMERICAN PICKLE: His friend James Franco did it in The Deuce, so why not? Funnyman Seth Rogen is the latest big name to get into the dual-role game, in this case for a particularly wild project: an adaptation of Simon Rich’s 2013 New Yorker novella, about an immigrant in 1920s America (Rogen) who is brined in a vat of pickles for 100 years, emerges perfectly preserved, and navigates present-day Brooklyn along with his great-grandson (Rogen, again). Directed by Brandon Trost (cinematographer on Rogen titles including This Is the End and Neighbors), An American Pickle was originally set up at Sony for a theatrical release, but was recently acquired by WarnerMedia and will debut on HBO Max as the platform's first original film. (Streaming, Aug. 6) —David Canfield

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC: Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves return as the titular, but now middle-aged, musicians who have just 80 minutes to come up with music which will save reality in Bill & Ted Face the Music. Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine play their daughters while Kid Cudi is, uh, Kid Cudi. (Theatrical, Aug. 21) —Clark Collis

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA: Starring Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens, and Demi Lovato, the Netflix comedy takes on the iconic European singing competition that sees the most eccentric wannabe stars from the continent don glitter and wigs and flaunt questionable talent in a bid to rise above their neighboring countries. In a fictional setting, can the U.K. escape its frequent “nul points” fate? (Streaming, June 26) —Ruth Kinane

IRRESISTIBLE: Jon Stewart helms Irresistible, a political comedy starring Steve Carell as a Democratic political consultant who helps a retired ex-Marine colonel (Chris Cooper) run for mayor of a small, right-wing Wisconsin town. Trouble comes when the RNC sends his nemesis Faith (Rose Byrne) — think Kellyanne Conway meets Parks and Recreation's Jennifer Barkley — to oppose his campaign. (Coming this summer) —Rachel Yang

THE KING OF STATEN ISLAND: On demand from Staten Island, it’s Pete Davidson’s film breakout! The Saturday Night Live star takes on his biggest — and most personal — role to date in director Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island. Based on elements of Davidson’s own life, including the loss of his firefighter father, the comedy follows Scott (Davidson), a burnout whose responsibility-free existence is turned upside-down when his widowed mother (Marisa Tomei) starts dating another fireman (Bill Burr). It forces Scott to confront his long-unsettled grief, and Apatow thinks it might have done the same for Davidson. “The movie is an imagining of what Pete's life might have been like if he never found comedy,” the filmmaker tells EW. “By writing this movie and thinking through his life, he hopefully had a cathartic experience trying to let go of a lot of the obstacles that have complicated his life.” (VOD, June 12) —Derek Lawrence

THE THRILLERS

Allyson Riggs

ANTEBELLUM: This provocative horror film gives Janelle Monáe her biggest screen vehicle yet, as an author thrust into a time-traveling nightmare and forced to fend off the horrors she encounters. Much of Antebellum is still shrouded in mystery, but comparisons to Get Out and Us are already surfacing in the film's intense and genre-fied exploration of slavery and the Civil War South. Hold your breath and strap in. (Theatrical, Aug. 21) —David Canfield

RELIC: Counting Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo brothers as producers, Relic blends a haunted-house setup with a chilling story of mental illness and family trauma, as an elderly woman’s (Robyn Nevin) mysterious disappearance draws her daughter (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Bella Heathcoate) to her deteriorating country home. (VOD/Theatrical, July 10) —Tyler Aquilina

THE RENTAL: Dan Stevens and Jeremy Allen White play brothers who rent a fancy seaside house for a weekend away with their girlfriends, portrayed by Alison Brie and Sheila Vand. The holiday from hell ensues in first-time director Dave Franco’s horror movie, The Rental. (VOD/Theatrical, July 24) —Clark Collis

PROJECT POWER: On the heels of the record-breaking Extraction, Project Power looks to garner similar buzz for Netflix. Headlined by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jamie Foxx, the film from Paranormal Activity 3 directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman is a sci-fi action thriller set during a drug epidemic. Only it turns out that this drug of use gives people unpredictable superpowers. (Streaming, Aug. 14) —Derek Lawrence

THE VAST OF NIGHT: The 1950s live twice in cultural memory. There’s the conformist nostalgia, clean-cute kids sipping soda by the jukebox. Beyond lingers darkness on the edge of town, in twilight zones of atomic terror. The Vast of Night cleverly evokes those dueling atmospheres of analog Americana. The Amazon Prime original is a thriller set in a New Mexico town. As night falls, everyone’s watching the local basketball squad lose, but teens Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick) are audio experts on graveyard shifts. He’s a radio DJ and she’s a switchboard operator, so they’re uniquely prepared to investigate the mysterious transmissions coming from the sky. (Streaming, May 29) —Darren Franich

THE DRAMAS

BABYTEETH: Little Women’s Eliza Scanlen leads this offbeat Australian dramedy as a headstrong teenager diagnosed with cancer, who falls into a whirlwind romance with a twentysomething drug dealer (Toby Wallace) — much to the chagrin of her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn). Ah, young love! (VOD/Theatrical, June 19) —Tyler Aquilina

CHEMICAL HEARTS: Warning: This is not your average teen romance. The new Amazon film from Richard Tanne (Southside With You), based on Krystal Sutherland’s YA novel Our Chemical Hearts, stars Lili Reinhart (Riverdale) as Grace Town, the mysterious new girl in school who wears baggy boy’s clothes and walks with a limp. Henry Page (Euphoria's Austin Abrams) can’t stop thinking about her as he begins his senior year, and as he grows closer to her, he’ll learn more about first love, heartbreak, and loss than he ever imagined. Stock up on tissues now because this one’s a real tearjerker. (Streaming, Aug. 21) —Sydney Bucksbaum

DA 5 BLOODS: Fresh off his first Oscar win for BlacKkKlansman, veteran filmmaker Spike Lee comes to Netflix with a grand tale of four black Vietnam vets who return to their former battlefield in search of the remains of their squad leader and buried treasure. Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, and Isiah Whitlock Jr. star in Da 5 Bloods alongside Black Panther himself, Chadwick Boseman, as well as Last Black Man in San Francisco breakout Jonathan Majors. (Streaming, June 12) —Marcus Jones

MISS JUNETEENTH: At the heart of Channing Godfrey Peoples’ film of great, credible atmosphere is a woman of incredible grace: A radiant Nicole Beharie stars as Turquoise, a small-town Texas single mother and former Miss Juneteenth trying to guide her teenage daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze) to win the same crown — in hopes that Kai’s life can take a different direction. (VOD, June 19) —Mary Sollosi

SOUND OF METAL: Riz Ahmed plays Ruben, a heavy metal drummer and recovering heroin addict who suddenly loses his hearing, in this quiet (and loud) heartfelt debut feature from director Darius Marder. Ruben finds refuge in a sober group home where they offer to help him “learn to be deaf” — including ASL lessons with local school kids (taught by The Eternals’ Lauren Ridloff). “A lot of deaf people say that hearing people are emotionally repressed, because we hide behind words,” Ahmed told EW at TIFF. “When you express yourself with your whole body, it’s just a much more expressive, honest, visceral experience.” (Theatrical, Aug. 14) —Shana Krochmal

THE TRUTH: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first non-Japanese-language film (also known as La Vérité) stars Catherine Deneuve as Fabienne, a French screen icon whose daughter (Juliette Binoche) visits upon the publication of Fabienne’s mostly made-up memoir. The filmmaker’s follow-up to 2018’s Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters picks apart, with great wit and insight, the lies we tell each other and ourselves, about ourselves and each other. (VOD, July 3) —Mary Sollosi

THE DOCS

HBO Documentary Films

ATHLETE A: This incisive Netflix doc explores the USA Gymnastics scandal and how the sport’s most influential organization ignored years of sexual abuse allegations. By spotlighting the Indianapolis Star reporters who broke the news and the many brave survivors who spoke out, directors Bonnie Cohen and Jon Shenk take a deep dive into the competitive world of elite gymnastics — and how an obsession with winning led to years of systemic cover-ups. (Streaming, June 24) —Devan Coggan

DADS: This life-affirming documentary marks Bryce Dallas-Howard's directorial debut, exploring the ever-evolving role of the family patriarch, as dads from Brazil to Japan, famous (Neil Patrick Harris, Jimmy Fallon, Will Smith) and otherwise, reflect on the impact of their own fathers and the role they themselves now play as modern-day dads. Get ready for emotional tributes, heartbreaking hardships, and, of course, dad jokes galore. (Streaming, June 19) —Ruth Kinane

JOHN LEWIS: GOOD TROUBLE: His mother always told him to avoid trouble, but John Lewis, now 80, never stopped pursuing it — in fact, the future Congressman and revered civil rights leader has made a life’s work of agitating for change through nearly every social and political avenue, often to his own endangerment. But Dawn Porter’s excellent doc Good Trouble is just that: a joyful, galvanizing portrait of a life radically and fully lived. (VOD/Theatrical, July 3) —Leah Greenblatt

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA: Award-winning journalist-turned-filmmaker David France (How to Survive a Plague, The Death and Life of Marsh P. Johnson) has spent decades shining a light on LGBTQ issues; here he turns a powerful, intimate lens to the closed Russian republic of Chechyna, alleged to be one of the most virulently anti-gay nations on the planet. The resulting documentary, which won near-universal accolades on the festival circuit earlier this year, will hopefully find a wider audience when it debuts on HBO. (Streaming, June 30) —Leah Greenblatt

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