Female directors – 2021’s new wave the must-see films they’re bringing to the big screen

Here at ODEON we love great films whoever’s in the director’s chair, but as 2021 kicks off, we’re particularly excited to see a crop of established and new female directors helming must-see movies.

Here are the ten directors you need to know and the 11 fantastic films they’re bringing to the big screen this year.  

Emerald Fennell directs Promising Young Woman

Release date: 12 February 2021

Promising Young Woman’s plot in a nutshell

After a young woman commits suicide after a rape that nobody in power believes happened, her college friend Cassie wages a one-woman campaign to call men out on their toxic behaviour and increasingly to seek retribution on all those who isolated Nina and drove her to her death. Starring a never better Carey Mulligan, alongside Alison Brie, Bo Burnham, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox and Clancy Brown, Promising Young Woman is a thriller that’s as shocking as it is timely.

Need to know: Emerald Fennell

Actress, screenwriter, author and – with this phenomenally accomplished debut feature – director, Emerald Fennell is most definitely a name to remember. She’s an extraordinarily talented multi-hyphenate in-front of and behind the camera, and was the showrunner on season two of the brilliant TV series Killing Eve, so she has magnetic and uncompromising female protagonists in her creative DNA.

Kat Coiro directs Marry Me

Release date: 12 February 2021

Marry Me’s plot in a nutshell

In this romantic comedy, a live screening of a celebrity wedding between two Latin music superstars Kat and Bastian (played by Jennifer Lopez and Maluma) takes an unexpected turn when Kat learns that her husband-to-be has been unfaithful. When Kat catches sight of a ‘Marry Me!’ sign held aloft by a fan (played by Owen Wilson) she chooses to wed him instead. What could possibly go wrong (or right)?

Need to know: Kat Coiro

Rocking a formidable CV helming episodes of some of the best US sitcoms around – Brooklyn 99, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless and Modern Family – Kat Coiro will be in her element directing Lopez, Wilson, Maluma and Sarah Silverman in this high-concept comedy. But will the romance take a backseat to the laughs? Hardly. As Coiro’s critically acclaimed 2013 drama And While We Were Here demonstrates – she’s got a gift for conjuring butterflies-in-the-stomach feels, too.

Chloé Zhao directs Eternals, and Nomadland

Eternals release date: 12 February 2021

Eternals plot in a nutshell

Intriguingly, we currently have very little information about the Eternals’ plot beyond the official synopsis, and this is what it says:

“Marvel Studios' The Eternals features an exciting new team of Super Heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind's most ancient enemy, The Deviants.”

Don’t know the Eternals? Worried Marvel is running out of A-list supers? Not a bit of it. After all, how many of us knew about the Guardians of the Galaxy before Marvel Studios made them beloved MCU mainstays?

Nomadland release date: 19 February 2021

Nomadland’s plot in a nutshell

Written by Chloé Zhao and based on the non-fiction book, Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland tells the story of Fern who, after losing her job, sells most of her possessions and takes to the road around the American West, living in her van and looking for work wherever she can find it. Starring the consistently amazing Frances McDormand as Fern alongside several real-life modern-day nomads playing fictionalised versions of themselves, Nomadland is an astonishingly relevant look at a growing community of rootless Americans for whom the Land of Opportunity remains a destination just out of reach.

Need to know: Chloé Zhao

With not one but two important (not to mention very different) films due for release in 2021, Chloé Zhao’s star is blazing brightly. And while the low-key authenticity Indie award-winner Nomadland – the film won the Golden Lion at the 2020 Venice Film Festival – and the next big franchise in the Marvel Cinematic Universe may not appear to have much connective tissue, they both call on one of Zhao’s emerging strengths as a writer/director: a genius touch with complex and interconnecting relationships. It’s a gift that bodes very well for both Nomadland and the ensemble cast of characters in Eternals.

Lisa Joy directs Reminiscence

Release date: 16 April 2021

Reminiscence’s plot in a nutshell

Sci-fi thriller Reminiscence is set in a flooded, near-future Miami where former soldier Nicholas Bannister makes money enabling people to relive any memory they wish. He falls in love with Mae, one of his clients, but things rapidly take a turn when another customer’s memories implicate Mae in a number of violent crimes.

Need to know: Lisa Joy

Writer/director Lisa Joy’s sci-fi credentials are second to none; she co-created, wrote, directed and was an executive producer on HBO’s stylish and intelligent Westworld. Overlapping with Joy’s Westworld preoccupations of identity and illusion, her debut feature promises a similarly labyrinthine plot. Add a superlative cast that includes Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson and Joy’s fellow Westworlder Thandie Newton, and Reminiscence has memorable movie event written all over it.

Cate Shortland directs Black Widow

Release date: 7 May 2021

Black Widow’s plot in a nutshell

The MCU’s Phase Four kicks off in style with a Black Widow prequel set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Does it signal a new series of Black Widow prequel adventures, or is it Scarlett Johansson’s swan song as Natasha Romanoff, cueing up Florence Pugh to take on the Black Widow codename? For now, that remains a mystery, as does the true identity of the film’s villain, Taskmaster – a formidable foe who can instantly copy the combat styles of anyone they fight…

Need to know: Cate Shortland

We’re incredibly excited to see what Australian director, Cate Shortland, brings to Natasha Romanoff’s solo adventures. Shortland’s previous features, Berlin Syndrome (2017), Lore (2012), and Somersault (2004) all demonstrate a masterful touch with authentically complex female leads and their relationships. And while this is Shortland’s first blockbuster, her action chops have already been confirmed by Black Widow’s spectacular trailers.

Jane Campion directs The Power of the Dog

Release date: TBC

The Power of the Dog’s plot in a nutshell

Based on Thomas Savage’s powerful 1967 novel of the same name, The Power of the Dog Follows the lives of brothers (played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jessie Plemons) who’ve lived and worked together for years running a large ranch in Montana. But, when one of the brothers falls in love, marries and moves away, the remaining brother swears vengeance on his sibling and the woman (played by Kirsten Dunst) who came between them.

Need to know: Jane Campion

Writer/director Jane Campion is the first – and to date, only – woman to receive the Palm d’Or at Cannes (she won it in 1993 for her mesmerising period drama, The Piano). Whether telling stories on the small screen – Top of the Lake (2013) – or the big screen – An Angel at My Table (1990), Holy Smoke (1999) and Bright Star (2009) – Campion has always been committed to bringing authentic, nuanced and fully realised female protagonists to life, even back when the majority of films relegated women to thin or supporting roles. She’s a bona fide trailblazer and we can’t wait to see how she navigates the story’s intense love/hate triangle with her impressive cast.

Liesl Tommy directs Respect

Release date: 13 August 2021

Respect’s plot in a nutshell

Spelling out this rafter-raising biopic’s title – R.E.S.P.E.C.T. – may be all we need to do to clue you in to its iconic subject. Built around a career-best performance by Jennifer Hudson (Sing, Dreamgirls, Chi-Raq) Respect is the life story of legendary R&B singer Aretha Franklin. In addition to the likes of Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans and Marc Maron, the film is brimming with Tony Award winning (and nominated) performers including Audra McDonald, Saycon Sengbloh and Hailey Kilgore.

Need to know: Liesel Tommy

We’re hard pushed to imagine anyone we’d rather seen directing Respect. The film is Liesel Tommy’s first feature-length project but she has a wealth of experience directing actors and performers on the stage. With a biopic rooted so deeply in performance, Tommy’s well-honed ability to draw every ounce of emotion from musical numbers (and Aretha Franklin’s eventful life story) makes us very excited about Respect.

Nia DaCosta directs Candyman

Release date: 27 August 2021

Candyman’s plot in a nutshell

In this spiritual sequel to the 1992 horror classic, we return to the now gentrified Cabrini Green neighbourhood that was once plagued by the hook-handed vengeful spirit known as Candyman. Artist Anthony and his gallery-owner girlfriend Brianna have just moved into the area. And, as Anthony becomes inspired by the dormant urban legend, he awakens it and unwittingly unleashes Candyman anew upon the community that tried so hard to bury his memory.

Need to know: Nia DaCosta

Everything you need to know about why 2021’s Candyman reboot/sequel is going to be a cut above your regular horror reboot can be found in writer/director Nia DaCosta’s hauntingly affecting ‘Paper’ trailer for the film. The short film/trailer sets the scene for Candyman by relating the harrowing story of how black artist Daniel Robitaille became the vengeful spirit, using paper-cut figures and shadow puppetry. It’s a work of art in its own right, blending Robitaille’s fictional fate with real-world examples of racial injustice against Emmet Till, James Byrd Jr. and George Stinney Jr.

DaCosta’s first feature, Crossing the Line (2018) was creatively and emotionally powerful, and she’s currently prepping to direct Captain Marvel 2. Our tip? Remember Nia DaCosta’s name and don’t miss Candyman on the big screen.

Lana Wachowski directs The Matrix 4

Release date: 22 December 2021

The Matrix 4’s plot in a nutshell

There’s presently more speculative junk code than fact surrounding the highly anticipated reboot of The Matrix franchise but here’s what we do know. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith are back as Neo, Trinity and Niobe respectively. They’re joined by Priyanka Chopra (Baywatch), Jonathan Groff (Frozen and TV’s Mindhunter), Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s How I Met Your Mother), Jessica Henwick (TV’s Iron Fist) and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (Aquaman).

Given the injection of youth into the film’s cast, we suspect there may be a sequel/prequel hybrid on the cards. How good would Abdul-Mateen II be as a young Morpheus?

Need to know: Lana Wachowski

Lana Wachowski directed and co-wrote all three of the previous Matrix films alongside sister Lily, so there’s nobody we’d rather see in the director’s chair for The Matrix 4. The Wachowskis’ vision of the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth (and the dystopian reality behind it) have long-since become cultural memes. That’s an incredible artistic achievement.

So the only question we have right now is, will Lana Wachowski’s first solo Matrix film redefine the franchise with a startling new iteration, or give fans an evolution of what they’ve been missing? 

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