The best sci-fi/fantasy TV and film coming in 2021
The next 12 months promise a huge assortment of treats for fans of science fiction. Here are our picks for the most anticipated upcoming projects, including new TV adaptations of classic oft-told stories and a long-awaited new cinematic entry in a classic sci-fi franchise.
It is probably no surprise that many of our entries on last year’s list have been delayed due to the 2020 pandemic. To avoid repeating ourself, check out last year’s list to get a reminder of some strong titles that are still to come (Dune is perhaps the most anticipated holdover).
We first flagged this big-budget TV adaptation of Isaac Asimov's seminal book series two years ago. And after a long production path a trailer finally appeared a few months ago, offering the first look at what is clearly a super expensive series.
All signs suggest this could be a strong adaptation, however, it is always challenging to make something out of classic stories that have been picked apart and pillaged by countless modern classics. From Star Wars to The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, countless modern sci-fi stories have borrowed from Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. Can this adaptation avoid feeling too familiar?
Sweet Tooth (Netflix)
Based on a graphic novel series that has been succinctly described as “Mad Max meets Bambi,” this post-apocalyptic story follows a half-human/half-deer hybrid named Gus who “joins a ragtag family of humans and animal-children hybrids like himself in search of answers about this new world and the mystery behind his hybrid origins.”
It is difficult to predict exactly what the tone of this very weird project will be, but Netflix bizarrely describes it as a “family-friendly storybook adventure.” Despite being co-produced by noted horror filmmaker Jim Mickle, the project is produced by Beth Schwartz (of DC television shows such as Arrow) and co-written by Christina Ham (a writer on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), so it is unlikely this will go into super strange or surreal territory.
The Last of Us (HBO)
It is entirely fair to say film and TV adaptations of video games do not have a good track record. But The Last of Us is not just any video game. This is one of the most popular narrative-driven video game series of the past decade.
And there are plenty of signs this could be a successful adaptation. HBO certainly has a strong track record at shepherding genre adaptions into prestige TV (at least until their creators make a number of terrible decisions ... I'm looking at you Game of Thrones) and the team assembled not only includes the original game writers but many of the creators involved in 2019’s thrilling Chernobyl mini-series.
Another big-budget TV adaptation of a very popular video game on its way in 2021 is Showtime’s Halo. The project has been in development since 2013 at Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Television, and despite production being mostly completed in early 2020 before the pandemic hit, reshoots have delayed the final cut.
As with The Last of Us, this project is at risk of the video game adaptation curse, but perhaps most concerning is the fact that the original Halo game was itself a mash-up of sci-fi influences, from James Cameron’s Aliens to a number of iconic sci-fi novels. Hopefully a strong creative team has found a way to present this familiar material in exciting and fresh ways.
The Sandman (Netflix)
Many have tried, and all failed, to mount a film or TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s iconic graphic novel series. There has been talk of a Sandman adaptation since the early 1990s but it wasn’t until 2019 that actual money was put on the table to move this thing into production.
Gaiman himself has been close to the development of this project into a TV series and production only recently kicked off after COVID-19 delays. Despite Gaiman’s promising involvement, the show will be primarily run by Allan Heinberg, an experienced TV producer with credits as diverse as Party of Five, Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls.
The Lord of the Rings (Amazon)
Amazon spent US$250 million in 2017 just to acquire the rights to Tolkien’s classic series so this is going to be as big as blockbuster television gets. At least five seasons are planned, and each season will cost more than $100 million to produce.
It is still unclear exactly what stories this series will tell, but it has been revealed it will be set thousands of years before the events of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Whether this reaches Game of Thrones level popularity or crashes and burns as a costly failure is almost irrelevant. This is going to be a big 2021 event.
The Matrix 4 (Warner Bros.)
It is always risky revisiting old franchises years later, and the last two Matrix films were certainly a case of diminishing returns after the instant classic of the first. But if anyone can pull it off it is Lana Wachowski, one of the two siblings behind the original trilogy, who returns with star Keanu Reeves.
All we know at this stage is the film is not a remake or reboot but rather it will continue the story from the first three movies. The original films were notable for a landmark reinvention of action filmmaking. Here’s hoping Lana Wachowski can deliver that same thrill of the new.
Reminiscence (Warner Bros.)
Best known as co-creator of the HBO sci-fi series Westworld with her spouse Jonathan Nolan, Reminiscence will be Lisa Joy’s debut as a solo writer/director. Although Westworld was by no means a creative success, it certainly was full of thoughtful sci-fi themes and musings.
Starring Hugh Jackman, Reminiscence tells the story of a near-future world where people are able to re-experience key memories … for a fee. Joy certainly has the ability to tell exciting stories with a big budget, and her husband came up with the story for one of the best cinematic games of memory ever made (Memento) so there are high hopes for this one.
Dual (XYZ Films)
With two small but impressive feature films under his belt, Riley Stearns is a filmmaker on the cusp of something truly great, and Dual just may be that breakthrough work. Shot in Finland during the pandemic this sci-fi film stars Aaron Paul, Jesse Eisenberg, and Karen Gillan.
Playing with the classic sci-fi trope of clones, the story follows a terminally ill woman who creates a clone of herself to help her family deal with her upcoming death. Of course, trouble ensues when she miraculously recovers from her illness. In this future world there can legally be only one iteration of a person alive ... meaning the solution is a court-ordered "dual" to the death.
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
Considering it hasn’t been much more than a decade since that last TV version of Battlestar Galactica concluded it is fair to say this is a pretty unnecessary and redundant remake. But what is promising about this reboot is the involvement of Sam Esmail (the creator of Mr Robot and director of the first season of Amazon’s Homecoming).
Not all of Esmail’s work is successful, but he always swings for the fences with bold creative choices (like setting half a Mr Robot episode within a perfectly recreated episode of the 80s TV show Alf). Instead of telling the same story, this new series will simply be set in the same universe as the 2004 series and Esmail has already suggested each episode will be dramatically different in style, tone and even duration.
Cowboy Bebop (Netflix)
Anyone familiar with the cult Japanese anime will immediately understand how excitingly insane the idea of a live-action remake is, but this could be one of the more incredible surprises of 2021. Starring John Cho, the project shares a similar space western sensibility to The Mandalorian, although things certainly get a little more wacky in the Cowboy Bebop universe.
With Jeff Pinkner co-producing (from Lost and Fringe), and Christopher Yost co-writing, the project also recruited the original anime’s director as creative consultant. Shooting in New Zealand started back in 2019 but was halted for more than six months after Cho injured his knee. Production recently kicked off again so this one should pop up on your Netflix homepage at some point towards the back of 2021.