The Freshest Movie Development News of 2021

Few industries enjoy taking really, really long extended holiday vacations quite like Hollywood, and when we get to this time of the year, there’s rarely much in the realm of “movie development news” to discuss. So, this week and next, we’re going to review 12 of the year’s top stories, presented to you in monthly chronology. The year-in-review begins with the “Fresh Developments” of 2021, and we’ll continue next week with the year’s “Rotten Ideas.”


Michael Waldron

(Photo by Image Group LA/Getty Images)

The future of Star Wars on the big screen seemed to hit a stumble last month, when the expected 2022 filming of Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins’ Rogue Squadron was indefinitely delayed. There are, however, still a few promising Star Wars projects in the works, like one from Taika Waititi (which was actually the January entry in the previous Yearly Ketchup). Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Certified Fresh at 93{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}), however, is currently working on next summer’s Thor: Love and Thunder (7/8/2022), so the other major Star Wars film still in active development is the mystery project being produced by Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige. What we learned in January is that Feige’s Star Wars project is being written by Michael Waldron, producer of the cult  animated comedy Rick and Morty. Waldron’s involvement with a Star Wars movie raises some fascinating questions, the most obvious of which might be whether Kevin Feige could be producing the first true Star Wars comedy. The original Star Wars trilogy had some wryly funny lines, but none of them were pure comedy films (and the prequels were the polar opposite). Michael Waldron also worked with Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios on both the Loki series on Disney+ this year and the upcoming sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (5/6/2021).


Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

(Photo by Clay Enos/©Warner Bros. Pictures)

Now that Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Fresh at 71{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) has been done and out for several months, marking the end of the Henry Cavill era as Superman, it remains obvious that Warner Bros. has a Krypton-sized hole in their DC Comics adaptations. (Having said that, Warner Bros did cast Sasha Calle as the first Latina Supergirl in the upcoming The Flash). In February, J.J. Abrams, whose genre credentials include LOST, Star Trek, and Star Wars came aboard a new Superman project as producer, with award-winning Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. The project, which is frequently described as the “black Superman” movie, made the news again in May when the first shortlist of potential directors was revealed. Reportedly, Warner Bros. is considering Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Steven Caple, Jr. (Creed II), J.D. Dillard (Sleight), Regina King (One Night in Miami), and Shaka King (Judas and the Black Messiah). At the time, it appeared that Warner Bros. might be casting their new Superman by the end of 2021, but that news has yet to emerge (or perhaps that will be something we hear about in early 2022).


Steven Spielberg

(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images)

Despite its Certified Fresh rating at 92{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}, Steven Spielberg’s ambitious West Side Story failed to find a large moviegoing audience (with an opening weekend of less than $11 million). Part of the reason that pundits are quick to use the word “flop” is that West Side Story ostensibly had aspirations of being more of a box office smash (comparisons to Hugh Jackman’s The Greatest Showman abound). By contrast, Spielberg’s next film does not appear to be vying for huge box office numbers. Now 75 years old, Spielberg is making a semi-autobiographical movie, specifically about his childhood. The project went from announcement to filming in pretty quick order, with Michelle Williams already attached to play the fictionalized version of his mother in March, and Paul Dano cast as his father in April. Newcomer Gabriel LaBelle was cast in May to basically play Spielberg himself, and Seth Rogen was cast as Spielberg’s favorite uncle. A month later, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood breakout star Julia Butters was cast as the lead character’s sister. The cast was filled out by several adult actors in July and six more kid actors in August. Finally, after months of rumors (that basically proved true), the title was confirmed in December as being The Fabelmans, as Universal Pictures also scheduled the film for release in the thick of next year’s “awards season” on November 23, 2022.


Anthony Mackie as Falcon in the poster for Falcon and the Winter Soldier

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Disney+ has just wrapped up its fifth Marvel Studios series with Hawkeye (Fresh at 92{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}), further setting up future MCU movies even as the series themselves were built upon the characters those films introduced. This is all happening pretty quickly, though, as we reflect back to April, when only its second series The Falcon & The Winter Soldier (Fresh at 89{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) wrapped up. It was just after that season ended that Marvel Studios confirmed that there will be a Captain America 4 with Anthony Mackie (formerly known as The Falcon) taking over the title. The fourth Captain America will very much be a creative continuation of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, with many of the same folks involved. To very little surprise, Anthony Mackie was officially signed to star in Captain America 4 four months later in August. In between those two stories, in May, Marvel Studios also revealed the titles of two other upcoming projects when the Black Panther and Captain Marvel sequels were titled Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and The Marvels. In September, we also learned that Marvel Studios will be stepping up its slate in 2024, when four movies (currently “untitled” though obviously Marvel knows what they are) will be released on February 16th, May 3rd, July 26th, and November 8th.


Dave Bautista, Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kathryn Hahn

(Photo by JA, Jason Mendez, Elizabeth Goodenough/Everett Collection)

After the star-studded ensemble mystery Knives Out (Certified Fresh at 97{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) earned over $311 million from a budget of just $40 million, it was quickly obvious that the film would probably get at least one sequel. In April, we found out Knives Out is actually getting two sequels, with Netflix handing out a massive $400 million deal. Director Rian Johnson and star Daniel Craig each reportedly snagged $100 million in that deal, and then in May, we first learned of some of the stars who  would be joining Craig in the second film. They include Marvel Studios alumni Dave Bautista (Drax), Edward Norton (Marvel’s Incredible Hulk before Mark Ruffalo), Kathryn Hahn (Agatha from WandaVision), and Janelle Monáe (Antebellum), who was the only non-Marvel alumni in that foursome. We also learned in July that Ethan Hawke had joined the Knives Out ensemble, and the other stars are now known to include Jessica Henwick, Kate Hudson, and Leslie Odom Jr.


Rachel Zegler in West Side Story (2021)

(Photo by ©20th Century Studios)

Walt Disney Pictures just keeps chugging along with live-action remakes of their classic animated features, with 2022 expected to deliver two films on Disney+ (Peter Pan & Wendy and Robert Zemeckis’ Pinocchio). That makes the format’s next likely theatrical exclusive 2023’s The Little Mermaid (5/26/2023), starring Halle Bailey (as Ariel) and Melissa McCarthy (as Ursula). Even with so many movies already released, the year 2021 started with a few “biggies” that haven’t been remade yet, and that includes the very first Walt Disney feature film, 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Certified Fresh at 98{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}). That’s no longer the case, however, as Disney is now in pre-production on Snow White, which could end up joining The Little Mermaid in theaters in 2023. That news first came out in June, when it was revealed that Snow White will be directed by Marc Webb, who is probably still best known for directing the two Amazing Spider-Man movies starring Andrew Garfield (Certified Fresh at 72{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9} and Rotten at 51{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}, respectively). The new Snow White will be played by Rachel Zegler, who starred as Maria in Steven Spielberg’s recent remake of West Side Story (Certified Fresh at 92{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}). This new Snow White will also feature new songs written by Benj Pasak and Justin Paul, who previously worked on both La La Land, The Greatest Showman, and Dear Evan Hansen. Disney’s live-action Snow White remake made the news again in November, when Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot joined the project as the villain known as just “The Evil Queen.”


Bill Murray in The Grand Budapest Hotel

(Photo by ©Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Like many films, director Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (Fresh at 75{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) ended up being delayed by over a year by the COVID-19 pandemic from its original release date in the summer of 2020 until October 29, 2021. That delay also meant that Anderson, who usually has a few years between each of his films, was ready to start filming his next film before The French Dispatch had even been released. Anderson is also well known for frequently working with the same recurring troupe of actors, and so as the initial casting stories came out, they included some familiar names. First up in July was Tilda Swinton, followed two weeks later by Anderson’s most prolific acting partner Bill Murray. The most surprising casting for this film might have come two weeks after that when Tom Hanks joined the cast for what will be his first film with Wes Anderson. Hanks was soon joined by two other first-timers, however, as Margot Robbie was cast two weeks after him, and Scarlett Johansson joined them a week after that. Other actors who joined the project along the way also include Anderson alumni Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Tony Revolori, Jason Schwartzman, and Jeffrey Wright, as well as Bryan Crantson, Hope Davis, Matt Dillon, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, and Liev Schreiber. Finally, in October, it was Bill Murray who let the title Asteroid City slip out, but we still don’t know what that really means, except that the ensemble comedy is a romance set in a desert, which is about as insightful as saying Moonrise Kingdom (Certified Fresh at 93{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) was a romance set on an island (which it was).


Taika Waitit on the set of Thor: Ragnarok

(Photo by Jasin Boland/©Marvel)

One sign of success as a director in Hollywood is that people keep wanting you to take on their projects, and at the same time, they’re more willing to say yes to whatever dream project you yourself want to work on. Since a filmmaker can only make so many movies in a given amount of time, that eventually means popular directors can develop quite a development slate. One such director is Taika Waititi (Jojo Rabbit, Thor: Ragnarok), who entered 2021 with one film completed (the upcoming Michael Fassbender soccer film Next Goal Wins), another about to start (Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder, 7/8/2022), and an unspecified Star Wars project in active development. In the summer of 2019, there was also the news of Taika Waititi writing an animated Flash Gordon, following years of some sort of Flash Gordon being kicked about in development since at least 2010. In addition to various serials in the 1940s, Flash Gordon is probably best remembered today for the campy, over-the-top 1980 space opera (Certified Fresh at 83{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) starring future Ted co-star Sam Jones. In August, however, the latest Flash Gordon update clarified that Waititi’s film will now be live-action instead of animated. Waititi then added yet another project to his development slate in November when he took on an adaptation of another ambitious space opera, the Alejandro Jodorowsky graphic novel The Incal.


Christopher Nolan

(Photo by Melinda Sue Gordon/Paramount Pictures)

With films like the Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar, and Inception, under his belt, it’s easy to forget that director Christopher Nolan has done a few period projects as well, including the World War II film Dunkirk. That film is perhaps most relevant to this year’s news, as Nolan is returning to World War II with his biopic Oppenheimer, about scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s involvement with The Manhattan Project and the invention of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer is a rare example of a film that’s almost ready to begin production just three months after being first announced. Oppenheimer comes in the aftermath of Christopher Nolan’s feud with HBO Max over the handling of last year’s Tenet ( Fresh at 69{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The flurry of Oppenheimer news items included the move to Universal Pictures after a long Warner Bros. partnership, the casting of Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the casting of Emily Blunt as his wife, the addition of Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr., and finally, Florence Pugh and Rami Malek as well. Oppenheimer is scheduled for release on July 21, 2023, which is the time of the summer when many of Nolan’s previous films were also released.


Timothee Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune

(Photo by Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Entertainment)

When Warner Bros. announced in late 2020 that their entire 2021 slate would also stream day-and-date on HBO Max, one of the most pressing questions among pundits concerned director Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s Dune (Certified Fresh at 83{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}). As it turned out, Dune did pretty alright at the theatrical box office, with an opening domestic weekend of $40 million and a current global take of over $300 million. Before the film’s release, there were hints from Villeneuve that his master plan was for a Dune trilogy that would fully adapt the first Dune novel and then some parts of other Dune novels. In October, Villeneuve confirmed that Legendary Entertainment was indeed moving forward with Dune Part Two, which is now scheduled for October 20, 2023, two days shy of exactly two years after the first film (10/22/2021). Unlike the first film, Dune Part Two will receive a “pure theatrical window” and will not premiere day-and-date on HBO Max. With Denis Villeneuve committed to directing at least one more (if not two) Dune movies, his science fiction slate gained another adaptation of a beloved sci-fi classic last week when Villeneuve became attached to direct the long-in-development adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, which Morgan Freeman has been trying to get made since the early 2000s.


Ariana Grande

(Photo by Kristin Callahan/Everett Collection)

Many movies take years and years to make their way through the development process, but every once in a while, we come across a project that has taken an especially long time. Consider, for example, the hit stage musical Wicked, which debuted in 2003 and then started development as a theatrical film at Universal Pictures in 2004, some 17 years ago. That it took this long for the Wicked movie to get to the point of casting its two female leads also meant that an amazing prediction was able to happen. Back in 2011, Ariana Grande was years away from becoming famous (her first album wasn’t until 2013), but it was back then that Grande tweeted about seeing Wicked on stage, “Made me realize again how badly I want 2 play Glinda at some point in my life! #DreamRole.” Kids, and kids at heart, don’t give up on those dreams, because in November, Ariana Grande was indeed cast as Glinda in the movie version of Wicked. She will star opposite Broadway musical vet Cynthia Erivo, who has also starred in Harriet (Fresh at 73{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) and Bad Times at the El Royale (Certified Fresh at 74{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}) and landed the lead role as Elphaba, aka the Wicked Witch of the West. This was the second time that Wicked made the news this year, following the announcement in February that it was to be directed by Jon M. Chu, who is coming off this summer’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights (Certified Fresh at 94{a78e43caf781a4748142ac77894e52b42fd2247cba0219deedaee5032d61bfc9}). Competing against Wicked is another adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s original The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which was announced as being in development at New Line Cinema in February. Wicked doesn’t currently have a release date (though sometime in 2023 may be likely), but yet another Wizard of Oz-related film, the animated Toto does, on February 2, 2024.


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

(Photo by Marvel Studios)

Presuming one counts the Sony co-productions (Venom: Let There Be Carnage and last week’s Spider-Man: No Way Home), Marvel continued to dominate the superhero genre, at least in the number of films released, with five (the other three being Black Widow, Eternals, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Given the world-building conceit inherent in pretty much all MCU films, one might have expected sequels to be quickly developed for all three of those films, but as 2021 ends, the only sequel to be officially put into development was the second Shang-Chi feature film. Destin Daniel Cretton, who directed and co-wrote the first film, has entered into a multi-year deal with Marvel Studios and Hulu that includes the Shang-Chi sequel, which Cretton will both write and direct, and an MCU series for Disney+, though it’s not yet known if that show will be directly related to Shang-Chi. No official casting has been announced for the Shang-Chi sequel, but stars Simu Liu (Shang-Chi), Awkwafina (Katy), and Meng’er Zhang (Xialing) are all presumed likely to return (given how obviously central to the story they are). Marvel Studios has also not yet announced a release date for the sequel, but it’s unlikely to be anytime before 2024, since 2022 and 2023 are pretty much already filled up with various Phase 4 feature films.

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Eleanore Beatty

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