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August’s most exciting movies

From The Suicide Squad and Candyman to Cryptozoo and CODA.

A man wearing a motorbike helmet and a woman lean in for a kiss.
Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in Annette.
Amazon Studios

Now that it’s August, it’s safe to say 2021’s summer box office has been worse than Hollywood hoped it would be, with pandemic upheavals and worries still very much in the mix. Still, there are plenty of new movies coming out in theaters or on streaming platforms.

Some of the highlights come in fresh, original stories, from Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in Annette to Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy. There’s horror to scare your pants off, thoughtful documentaries to poke your brain, drama to stir your soul, and some superheroes too.

Here are 12 of the most interesting films to look for in August.

Annette

Release date: August 6 in theaters; August 20 on Amazon Prime

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard star in the operatic musical Annette, which is as wild and weird as they come. Driver is a stand-up comic whose act is a calculated takedown of the audience; Cotillard is an opera singer. The two fall in love and have a child named Annette, but there’s no happily ever after in the cards. Director Leos Carax enlisted pop-rock duo Sparks to write the music for this epic, which gleefully employs artifice to tell a tale that’s at times off-putting but always surprising. This kind of singular invention is rarer than ever at the movies these days, and thankfully Annette’s emotional core is raw and rock solid.

How to watch it: Annette will open in limited theaters and begin streaming for subscribers on Amazon Prime two weeks later.

The Suicide Squad

Release date: August 6

Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn made the jump to the DC Extended Universe for The Suicide Squad, a “standalone sequel” to the critically panned 2016 film. The new movie — which earned high marks from critics for its visual style and Gunn’s signature humor — tells a separate story from the first film, with some of the same characters and cast returning. This time, the Squad must destroy a Nazi-era prison and laboratory where political prisoners are subject to torturous experiments, and they run into a giant alien named Starro. Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Jai Courtney, and Peter Capaldi star.

How to watch it: The Suicide Squad will open in theaters.

The Viewing Booth

Release date: August 6

In The Viewing Booth, Israeli director Ra’anan Alexandrowicz focuses his camera on the act of viewing itself. To make the film, Alexandrowicz set up a lab-like room into which he invited American students interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, asking them to watch videos uploaded by activists while verbalizing their thoughts. He ended up centering The Viewing Booth on the reactions of one young woman, Maia Levy, an American of Israeli descent whose views of videos originating in the West Bank city of Hebron stand in opposition to Alexandrowicz’s own. Through their conversations, the ways our preconceived ideas shape and dictate how we view the same images are explored and exposed. It’s an outstanding probe into not only how people think about a conflict in the Middle East, but also the limits of nonfiction films in their ability to persuade and document reality as it is — and what kinds of defense mechanisms we all bring with us to the screen.

How to watch it: The Viewing Booth will open in limited theaters and be available to digitally rent for a limited time through the Museum of the Moving Image’s virtual cinema platform.

John and the Hole

Release date: August 6

John (Charlie Shotwell) is an ordinary 13-year-old boy who lives with his parents (Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Ehle) and older sister (Taissa Farmiga). He’s feeling a little ignored until one day, while flying his new drone, he discovers an abandoned bunker in the woods and the wheels in his head start turning. Directed by visual artist Pascual Sisto and featuring great performances from its leads, John and the Hole is a strange and darkly fun thriller. It’s the extrapolation of a tween fantasy: If you could just get your family out of the way for one day to do whatever you want, what would you do?

How to watch it: John and the Hole will open in limited theaters.

Homeroom

Release date: August 12

We’re informed at the beginning of Homeroom that the film covers the senior year of Oakland High School’s class of 2020, which means we already know what these kids don’t: The disruption of a lifetime is coming. But they were an extraordinary bunch even before they were forced to live through a pandemic. Homeroom, the third in Peter Nicks’s trilogy of films about Oakland, California, focuses largely on a group of OHS students who are passionately focused on getting rid of their school’s police presence. The movie makes the case that members of Gen Z have always been primed and ready to take their place as activists; it’s the rest of the country that’s finally started to move in their direction. Weaving in the pandemic, Homeroom offers a compassionate, powerful, and often very funny look at a generation that will never be the same.

How to watch it: Homeroom will stream on Hulu.

CODA

Release date: August 13

CODA (which stands for Children of Deaf Adults) was a huge hit at Sundance, hauling in a record $25 million acquisition deal from Apple TV+ and winning all four of the festival’s top prizes: the US Dramatic Grand Jury Prize, the US Dramatic Audience Award, the US Dramatic Directing Award for Siân Heder, and a US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast. No wonder — it’s a truly heartfelt, music-laced story about a teenager who is the only hearing member of her family. She wants to go to college for music, but her family is struggling to keep its fishing business afloat. Sweet, thoughtful, and unusual in its extensive use of sign language and casting of deaf actors (including Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), it’s the kind of film you can’t help but love.

How to watch it: CODA will open in theaters and stream on Apple TV+.

Free Guy

Release date: August 13

Charming and surprisingly philosophically dense, Free Guy is a comedy about choosing to live your life, with an endearing level of corniness that’s entirely on purpose. Ryan Reynolds stars as Guy, an NPC (non-playing character) in a game called Free City, sort of a cross between Grand Theft Auto and The Sims. Every day Guy wakes up, greets his goldfish, gets some coffee, and goes to his bank teller job, just like his programming tells him to do. But a bit of errant code buried in the game and a chance encounter shock him out of his routine, changing his existence drastically. With a delightful cast (including Stranger Things’s Joe Keery and Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer) and an inventive world, Free Guy is the rare truly enjoyable studio action-comedy.

How to watch it: Free Guy will open in theaters.

Respect

Release date: August 13

Jennifer Hudson stars as Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, in this biographical drama. Directed by Liesl Tommy and written by Tracey Scott Wilson, Respect explores Franklin’s struggle to break the stronghold that childhood trauma (Franklin had her first child at age 12) and abusive men exerted on her life, and truly come into her own freedom. Though it rounds off some of the rougher edges of Franklin’s life — particularly with respect to her first husband, Ted White, and her father — it’s still a worthwhile look at the lives of one of the greats, and Hudson is outstanding. The film also stars Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Marc Maron, Tituss Burgess, Saycon Sengbloh, Hailey Kilgore, Skye Dakota Turner, Tate Donovan, and Mary J. Blige.

How to watch it: Respect will open in theaters.

In the Same Breath

Release date: August 18 on HBO and HBOMax; August 12 in limited theaters

It’s hard to imagine any pandemic documentary being better than In the Same Breath. The film from director Nanfu Wang — who grew up in China but now lives and works in the US — takes a fearless approach to the often willful misinformation spread by multiple governments as the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold in early 2020. It’s a daring exploration of how the Chinese government repressed information about what was really happening. Yet it also exposes how other governments — most notably the US’s — contributed to the ongoing misinformation crisis and made the situation much worse than it needed to be. The result is a chilling, truly absorbing film with big implications for the future.

How to watch it: In the Same Breath will debut on HBO and HBOMax on August 18. It will also open in limited theaters in Los Angeles on August 12 and in New York City on August 19.

Cryptozoo

Release date: August 20

Cryptozoo is a strange, fanciful, eye-popping tale for adults from comic book writer and animator Dash Shaw. We enter the tale through the eyes of a woman who stumbles onto an island community of cryptids, mythical creatures whose existence is usually questioned or denied, all living together in a sanctuary, shielded from the outside world. But trouble brews. With a voice cast that includes Lake Bell, Michael Cera, Zoe Kazan, Peter Stormare, Angeliki Papoulia, Grace Zabriskie, and Alex Karpovsky — and artwork that’s truly astounding — Cryptozoo is an animated wonder that explores the pain and possibility of being an outsider.

How to watch it: Cryptozoo will open in theaters.

The Night House

Release date: August 20

Rebecca Hall stars in The Night House, a creepy and sinister tale of a young woman who slowly comes to realize that her deceased husband may not have been who she thought he was. The film filters grief and trauma through jump-scare horror, borrowing effectively from genres that explore the supernatural and surreal. Stylish and often original, it has an ending that may divide audiences but is undoubtedly scary.

How to watch it: The Night House will open in theaters.

Candyman

Release date: August 27

Nia DaCosta directs the slasher-horror film Candyman, based on a screenplay she co-wrote with Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld. A sequel to the 1992 film, it tells the tale of artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his gallerist girlfriend Brianna Cartwright (Teyonah Parris), who move into a loft built on the grounds of former housing projects in Chicago. There they learn the true story behind the Candyman myth, which McCoy begins incorporating into his work — and things start getting very scary. This highly anticipated movie has been delayed three times since its original June 2020 opening date, and it promises to serve up some serious fright alongside its social commentary.

How to watch it: Candyman will open in theaters.