8 movies to watch instead of the ones that won't be released this holiday season

Movie posters.
(Image credit: Illustrated | IMP Awards)

With Thanksgiving around the corner, one would expect the TV to be crowded with holiday movie trailers, for billboards to be advertising Oscar hopefuls, and for every commercial break on the radio to have dramatic music hyping blockbusters in theaters now.

But this year, the TVs and radios are silent, and the billboards bare. Welcome to the movie season that wasn't.

Nearly all of the major movies scheduled for this fall have been postponed to 2021. But that doesn't mean there's nothing to watch. Here are eight older substitutes for this season's biggest movies, so you don't miss a thing.

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Nov. 20: Replace Godzilla vs. Kong with … Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

If all was right in the world, we'd be in theaters watching Godzilla and King Kong beat each other up this weekend. Alas, the pandemic has delayed the sequel to 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters and 2017's Kong: Skull Island until next year.

Luckily, there are 35 other movies in the Godzilla franchise to watch instead, including plenty of "Godzilla versus …" combinations. Kaiju experts recommend skipping the obvious choice here, 1963's King Kong vs. Godzilla, which "features a janky-looking Kong, a plodding story, and lackluster fight scenes (to say nothing of the cringe-y sight of Japanese actors in blackface depicting the natives of Kong's island)," Vulture writes. Instead opt for Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, which includes the first appearance of Godzilla's robotic foe. While the special effects are endearingly dated, consider it research: Godzilla: King of the Monsters teased the potential appearance of Mechagodzilla in Godzilla vs. Kong with a line in the credits that mentions a "mechanized giant" being assembled on Skull Island.

The new release date for Godzilla vs. Kong is May 21, 2021. Stream Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla at HBO Max and The Criterion Channel.

Nov. 25: Replace King Richard with … Love Means Zero

Director Reinaldo Marcus Green was aiming to break the tennis movie curse this year with King Richard, a biopic about Venus and Serena Williams' father and coach, Richard Williams (played by Will Smith). Unfortunately, this one is not an easy movie to find a substitute for — to quote the legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, who was asked by Vanity Fair about the best tennis movies, "If I'm totally honest, there are none."

In fact, the best option might be the 2018 Showtime documentary Love Means Zero, which is about Bollettieri. While Bollettieri also had a hand in coaching the Williams sisters (he refers to them as "my Venus" and "my Serena"), Love Means Zero focuses primarily on his relationship with Andre Agassi, and how he threw it all away. "As a piece of tennis lore, Love Means Zero is absolutely vital," wrote Indiewire.

The new release date for King Richard is Nov. 19, 2021. Stream Love Means Zero at Showtime.

Nov. 25: Replace Raya and the Last Dragon with … Ne Zha

The hype is real for Raya and the Last Dragon, an original high fantasy story set in the Southeast Asia-inspired world of Kumandra. In it, Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran), a warrior, must find the last dragon (Awkwafina) in order to save the realm from monsters. Disney opted against a straight-to-streaming option with Raya, like it'd pursued with Mulan, so if risking your life to see The Croods sequel isn't appealing, that means there are no other options for a new animated movie over Thanksgiving weekend.

Instead, try Ne Zha on Netflix (note that while the movie is originally in Mandarin, Netflix offers the option of dubbing the film in English in case kiddos want to avoid subtitles). The film is based on a character from Chinese mythology, an infant named Ne Zha who is the incarnation of the "Demon Orb," destined to be struck dead by lightning when he turns three — think a demonic, cursed Boss Baby. Ne Zha is the highest-grossing non-U.S. animated film in history, and while it might not be quite as lovely and lyrical as Raya (for something more along those lines, fire up HBO Max for Princess Mononoke), it promises its own sort of adventure.

The new release date for Raya and the Last Dragon is March 12, 2021. Watch Ne Zha at Netflix.

Dec. 18: Replace Dune with … Jodorowsky's Dune

Sadly, it will be 10 more months before we get to watch Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, and Zendaya in the ensemble adaptation of Frank Herbert's hugely-influential 1965 sci-fi novel, Dune. But just be happy you'll one day be able to watch it at all — which is sadly not the case for the adaptation once dreamed up by the psychedelic cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, and the subject of a 2014 documentary about his unsuccessful attempt to make the movie, Jodorowsky's Dune.

"In 1975, having created controversy with his films Fando y Lis and El Topo, Jodorowsky threw himself headlong into making Dune, fired by messianic passion, unbridled energy, and a vision for cinema that, along with the psychedelics being ingested at the time, he hoped would change mass consciousness forever," The Washington Post wrote in its review of the documentary, calling the phantom project perhaps "the greatest movie never made."

The new release date for Dune is Oct. 1, 2021. Watch Jodorowsky's Dune at Amazon Prime.

Dec. 18: Replace West Side Story with … Romeo + Juliet

Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story, starring Ansel Elgort, will remain a Christmas movie, having been delayed a full year to Dec. 10, 2021. Finding a different story about star-crossed lovers, though, is hardly a challenge, since the 1961 original is based on the oft-adapted story of Romeo and Juliet.

But if you prefer snapping and leaping gangsters over fidelity to Shakespeare's script, then Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet from 1996 gets a little closer to what you're looking for. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes speak in Shakespeare's original dialogue, everything else is modern, from the soundtrack to the costumes (plus young DiCaprio was kind of the Elgort of his day). Already seen it, or perhaps Luhrmann's zany style is not your thing? Don't worry: there are plenty of other options that could fit the bill.

The new release date for West Side Story is Dec. 10, 2021. Watch Romeo + Juliet at Hulu.

Dec. 23: Replace Cruella with … The Royal Tenenbaums

Cruella is the latest live-action remake from Disney about one of the studio's classic villains, following Angelina Jolie's sympathetic portrayal of Maleficent. The forthcoming movie will explore the origin story of one of Disney's most sinister bad guys, the literal puppy-killer Cruella de Vil, played by Emma Stone and set in London in the 1970s.

On the surface, Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums has basically nothing to do with any of that. On the other hand, when it comes to the biggest fur-lovers in cinema, Margot Tenenbaum might give Cruella a run for her money with her iconic mink coat.

The new release date for Cruella is May 28, 2021. Watch The Royal Tenenbaums at Amazon Prime.

Dec. 25: Replace The Nightingale with … The Innocents

Since all movies have the same title now, you're excused for thinking you've already seen The Nightingale. This one, though, is an adaptation of Kristin Hannah's novel of the same name, about French sisters who struggle to resist the Nazis during the country's occupation in World War II. Real-life sisters, Elle and Dakota Fanning, co-star.

Sisters of a different sort star in The Innocents, which is set in Poland in the early days after the end of the war. Mathilde Beaulieu, a doctor for the French Red Cross, travels to work at a Benedictine convent, where she discovers that a number of the nuns are on the verge of giving birth. Like The Nightingale, it is a film about the cost of war on women, as told by a woman director. Both movies likewise examine "strong, brave women protecting each other and doing what they must to survive."

The new release date for The Nightingale is Dec. 25, 2021. Watch The Innocents at Amazon Prime.

Dec. 25: Replace The Tomorrow War with … Tenet

2020 marked the first time since 2014 that there wasn't scheduled to be a new Star Wars movie in theaters, and Chris Pratt had been set to fill the sci-fi void this Christmas with The Tomorrow War before, well, you know. The movie is about a future war in which scientists develop the technology to draft soldiers from the past in order to fend off an alien invasion, but will now come out during the height of the crowded 2021 summer movie season.

If you still want a big time-travel-y action movie to watch over Christmas, consider Christopher Nolan's Tenet instead. The film controversially came out in theaters this summer after multiple pandemic delays, but failed to draw crowds back to the cinema. Now Warner Bros. has decided to finally allow people to watch the movie on-demand safely at home, with Tenet set to be digitally released on Dec. 15.

The new release date for The Tomorrow War is July 23, 2021. Watch Tenet at Amazon Prime.

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