After a turbulent 2020, 2021 has been a more exciting year for movies so far, and things can (hopefully) only get better, especially with notable projects previously stuck in development hell finally seeing the light of day. The metaphorical purgatory known as development hell is a dark creative abyss that pulls eagerly-awaited movies and TV shows into an unknown future, shifting around scripts, directors and studios, and frustrating legions of hungry film fans in the process. Thankfully, this damnation isn’t eternal. Some highly-anticipated films have escaped development hell, and are currently scheduled for a 2021 release.
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Whether it’s Mad Max: Fury Road or the new Guns n’ Roses album, development hell is frustrating for fans and creators alike. The irritation doesn’t stop behind-the-scenes either; completed movies with a bumpy production history have rarely turned out well (see Alien Vs. Predator and John Carter). But despite the term’s negative connotations, snags in the creative process can sometimes be beneficial. Delays signal that a studio is unwilling to flippantly rush for the sake of meeting a tentpole release date, instead taking care in finding the right talent to breathe life into an important creative venture. More time spent suggests a studio has enough faith in a project to play the waiting game.
Movies that have been gestating (for ten years or more in some cases) are finally getting their big pay-off in 2021. We’ve already seen the likes of Army of the Dead land on Netflix after far too long in the pipeline, and more are on the way as the year plows relentlessly forward. Whether they’ll sink or swim is anyone’s guess, but anticipation is naturally rife – these films have been a long time coming.
Space Jam: A New Legacy
The original Space Jam appealed to sports and classic cartoon fans alike, and its $230 million worldwide gross put a sequel on the cards almost immediately. Ultimately, plans for Space Jam 2 were scrapped in favor of 2003’s Looney Tunes: Back in Action, which remains the most recent silver screen effort from Bugs Bunny and friends. Sustained interest in the 1990s basketball classic has led to a variety of stalled sequels in recent years, pitting the TuneSquad in games alongside a host of sports celebrities, including a round of golf with Tiger Woods and a skateboarding session with Tony Hawk.
The upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy sequel is evidently taking a more back-to-basics approach. NBA champion LeBron James replaces Michael Jordan as the Tunes’ captain, with director Malcom D. Lee filling Joe Pytka’s boots as captain of production. Ryan Coogler features in a producer role, while Don Cheadle and Sonequa Martin-Green join the returning Looney Tunes favorites, who are sure to give the Goon Squad an exciting, madcap match when the film releases on July 16.
The latest vehicle for the most electrifying man in
sports entertainment Hollywood, Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt on an adventure to find the generic-sounding “Tree of Life.” Boasting an impressive supporting cast that includes Jesse Plemons, Jack Whitehall and Andy Nyman, a Jungle Cruise movie has actually been in the works since 2004 in one form or another, the original hope being to capitalize on the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which was also based on a theme park attraction. After a period of silence, Jungle Cruise emerged from the undergrowth with purpose in 2015, built entirely around Johnson’s rising stock as a leading man. A cast quickly assembled around him, Jaume Collet-Serra hopped aboard as director, and the project cruised toward a 2019 date.
Jungle Cruise was pushed back to July 2020 which, as we now know, was unwise. The Rock will finally dock in theaters and on Disney+ July 30, 2021, some 17 years after the idea first came about.
Frank Herbert’s game-changing Dune novel was first brought to the big screen in 1984… in a sense. Directed by David Lynch, the Dune movie was a failure on every level, and shared little in common with Herbert’s science fiction standard. From a certain point of view, the quest to make an authentic Dune movie has been ongoing for well over 30 years, but the current project began life at Paramount way back in 2008, before the idea was dropped three years later. Dune found its way to Legendary, Denis Villeneuve became attached around 2016, and development began. Dune moved once more, this time to Warner Bros. who Villeneuve claims to have agreed to a two-movie deal with. Covering the first half of Herbert’s novel, Dune packs an all-star cast of Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Dave Bautista, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, and many more.
After filming wrapped in July 2019, Dune was unfortunate enough to be planned for a November 2020 release, when most theaters across the world would be closed. As part of Warner’s COVID reshuffle, Dune was moved to October 1, 2021, and will premiere simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max, marking a huge win for the streaming service. Following Dune‘s trailer release, anticipation is palpably high, potentially justifying the years spent in development hell.
Top Gun: Maverick
With its cheesy 1980s banger of a theme tune and glistening topless volleyball scenes, Top Gun‘s less-than-accurate depiction of military life proved massively popular, and launched the cinematic career of Tom Cruise to new heights. Despite the original film’s success, talk of a sequel only began seriously in 2010, piquing the interest of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, as well as star duo Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. Though the necessary key figures in place were in place and Paramount remained keen, Top Gun: Maverick wouldn’t officially be announced until 2017, when Joseph Kosinski was confirmed to direct. Cruise and Kilmer will be joined by Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, and Jon Hamm, and trailers confirm a more mature, modern venture for the titular aging veteran.
First penciled in for 2019, Top Gun: Maverick slipped back to mid-2020, before succumbing to the pandemic. The long-awaited sequel will finally take off on November 19, 2021, before landing on the revamped Paramount+ streaming service only a few short weeks later.
West Side Story
Steven Spielberg’s interest in making a big screen adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s classic West Side Story musical dates back to 2014 but, three years later, a script still hadn’t been completed. West Side Story battled valiantly to escape development hell, competing with another forgotten Spielberg project – Indiana Jones 5. The Jets and Sharks beat back Indy, and filming finally commenced in 2019. Starring Ansel Elgort as Tony, Rachel Zegler as Maria, and Ariana DeBose as Anita, West Side Story looks set to offer an authentic interpretation of the popular source material, with Spielberg promising those famous musical numbers remain intact. Originally slated for December 2020, COVID-19 forced West Side Story to shuffle back an entire year, and is now set for December 10, 2021.
Sherlock Holmes 3
Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law are expected to reprise their roles as Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes 3. The series as a whole has often stalled thanks to Downey Jr.’s MCU commitments, portraying Tony Stark. Fans may have been blessed with three seasons of BBC’s Sherlock to get their fix, but nevertheless, some remain eager to see Downey Jr.’s appealing performance as the Victorian detective once again, particularly after a decade-long absence. Originally scheduled for December 2020, suspiciously, Sherlock Holmes 3 was delayed for an entire year.
Guy Ritchie directed the original 2009 film, as well as its sequel, A Game of Shadows, but has vacated the chair for the third film. Hot from Elton John biopic Rocketman, British director Dexter Fletcher will replace him, and has noted the inevitability that his sequel will differ from Ritchie’s interpretation of the franchise.
Sherlock Holmes 3 delays are largely down to the screenplay department. Chris Brancato is the latest writer to pen a script, after original screenwriters, Drew Pearce and James Coyne, each turned in inadequate drafts of their own. Law has explained how he and the filmmakers want Sherlock Holmes 3 to “be better” than its predecessors, and are understandably cautious about releasing a less-than brilliant threequel. A December 22, 2021 release was the last date given, but the most recent update from Dexter Flecher described Sherlock Holmes 3 as “on the back-burner.”
The upcoming Pinocchio movie is Guillermo Del Toro’s long-awaited adaptation of the classic children’s novel, popularized by Disney’s 1940 animation. Del Toro’s project endured an awkward path towards principle production, having been cancelled in 2017 after the director failed to acquire funding for his much darker interpretation of Disney’s whimsical tale, which reportedly switches the 19th century setting for Mussolini’s Italy. Del Toro has repeatedly called Pinocchio as his long-standing passion project, claiming a “deep, personal connection” to the character.
After stagnating for over a year, Netflix came to Del Toro’s aid following his career high The Shape of Water Oscar win in 2017 and, with The Jim Henson Company in tow, Pinocchio will finally materialize with co-director Mark Gustafson, whose talents are essential for the film’s stop-motion animation. Pinocchio will be a unique, surreal effort, and a pleasing change of pace from today’s CG-heavy fantasy fare. Unfortunately, a release date remains somewhat elusive. Netflix initially announced a 2021 premiere, but that was before the pandemic, and a delay has since been mooted. Time will tell whether Netflix’s nose is growing, or whether Pinocchio can pull some strings to land before 2022.
More: Every Franchise Movie Releasing In 2021
- Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)Release date: Jul 16, 2021
- Jungle Cruise (2021)Release date: Jul 30, 2021
- Dune (2021)Release date: Oct 01, 2021
- Top Gun: Maverick/Top Gun 2 (2021)Release date: Nov 19, 2021
- West Side Story (2021)Release date: Dec 10, 2021
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