Predicting the Best Picture winner is often the toughest among the 24 categories at the Oscars. We learned this at the 2020 Academy Awards. We were certain the top prize would go to “1917” but it was “Parasite” that prevailed. When making our Best Picture Oscar predictions, we weigh many factors, the most important of which is the effect of the preferential ballot that is used only for this race (voters rank all the nominees with the winner being the one that is the consensus choice.)
We also take into account the pedigree of the filmmakers, the critical reception to their previous films, the box office tally and the track record of the studios. We’ve taken all of these into consideration again as we look ahead to the 2021 Academy Awards. (Scroll down for the 2021 Oscars predictions for Best Picture.)
Early contenders were launched at the Sundance Film Festival in January before the coronavirus pandemic upended the race. Cannes was cancelled in May as was Telluride for Labor Day weekend. The three other festivals used as launching pads — Venice, Toronto and New York — are significantly scaled back. While cinemas are shuttered, the academy is allowing films that had to scrap planned theatrical releases to qualify via a streaming service.
Please note: Only those films with confirmed release dates are listed below. Check back often as new contenders are scheduled while other are dropped due to delays or critical reaction.
“Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix – June 12)
Director: Spike Lee
Writers: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Spike Lee, Kevin Willmott
Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Paul Walter Hauser, Norm Lewis
Plot: Four Vietnam veterans return to Vietnam in search of the remains of their fallen squad leader and the promise of buried treasure.
“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics – Fall)
Director: Florian Zeller
Writers: Christopher Hampton and Zeller who adapted the latter’s play of the same name.
Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell
Plot: A man refuses all assistance from his daughter as he ages.
“The French Dispatch” (Searchlight Pictures – Winter)
Writer/Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet,Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Steve Park, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson.
Plot: A love letter to journalists set in an outpost of an American newspaper in a fictional 20th-century French city that brings to life a collection of stories published in “The French Dispatch” magazine.
“Hillbilly Elegy” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: Vanessa Taylor who adapted the memoir of the same name by J.D. Vance.
Cast: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins
Plot: A modern exploration of the American Dream about three generations of an Appalachian family.
“Mank” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Jack Fincher
Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Tuppence Middleton, Arliss Howard
Plot: Screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz battles with director Orson Welles over screenplay credit for “Citizen Kane.”
“News Of The World” (Universal – December 25)
Director: Paul Greengrass
Writers; Paul Greengrass, Luke Davies
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Helena Zengel
Plot: A travelling newsreader is tasked with bringing an orphaned girl to her living relatives in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
“Next Goal Wins” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)
Director: Taika Waititi
Writers: Iain Morris and Waititi who adapted the documentary of the same name.
Cast:: Michael Fassbender, Elisabeth Moss, Kaimana, Beulah Koale, Rachel House, Armie Hammer.
Plot: A coach takes the American Samoa national football team to the World Cup.
“Nightmare Alley” (Searchlight Pictures – Winter)
Director: Guillermo del Toro;
Writers: del Toro and Kim Morgan who adapted the novel of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham.
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins
Plot: A corrupt con-man teams up with a female psychiatrist to trick people into giving them money.
“Soul” (Disney/Pixar – November 20)
Director: Pete Docter
Writers: Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers, Tina Fey
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Angela Bassett, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs
Plot: A musician who has lost his passion for music is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself.
“Tenet” (Warner Bros. – September 3)
Writer/Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh
Plot: A secret agent is tasked with preventing World War III through time travel
“Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix – Fall)
Writer/Director: Aaron Sorkin
Cast: Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen
Plot: The story of 7 people on trial stemming from various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
“West Side Story” (20th Century – December 18)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Writer: Tony Kushner who adapted the stage play of the same name by Arthur Laurents
Cast: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, Corey Stoll, Brian d’Arcy James, Rita Moreno
Plot: Teenagers Tony and Maria, despite having affiliations with rival street gangs, the white Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, fall in love in 1950s New York City.
“Ammonite” (Neon – Fall)
Writer/Director: Francis Lee
Cast: Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Fiona Shaw
Plot: 1840s England, an infamous fossil hunter and a young woman sent to convalesce by the sea develop an intense relationship, altering both of their lives forever.
“C’mon, C’mon” (A24 – Fall)
Writer/Director: Mike Mills
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffmann, Woody Norman, Artrial Clark
Plot: An artist (Phoenix) left to take care of his precocious young nephew (Norman) forge an unexpected bond over a cross country trip. This movie touches on mental illness as the boy’s father struggles with bipolar disorder.
“Dune” (Warner Bros. – December 18)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Roth, Jon Spaihts and Villeneuve who adapted the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert.
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin
Plot: The son of a noble family is entrusted with the protection of the most valuable asset and most vital element in the galaxy.
“The Courier”/”Ironbark” (Lionsgate – Fall)
Director: Dominic Cooke
Writer: Tom O’Connor
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel Brosnahan, Jessie Buckley
Plot: The true story of the British businessman who helped the CIA penetrate the Soviet nuclear programme during the Cold War.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” (20th Century – January 21, 2021)
Director: Jonathan Butterell
Writers: Dan Gillespie Sells, Tom MacRae
Cast: Max Harwood, Lauren Patel, Richard E. Grant
Plot: A teenager from Sheffield, England wants to be a drag queen.
“Greyhound” (Apple – July 20)
Director: Aaron Schneider
Writers: Tom Hanks
Cast: Tom Hanks, Elisabeth Shue, Karl Glusman
Plot: Early in World War II, an inexperienced U.S. Navy captain must lead an Allied convoy being stalked by Nazi U-boats.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: George C. Wolfe
Writer: Ruben Santiago-Hudson who adapted the play of the same name by August Wilson.
Cast: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman
Plot: When Ma Rainey, the “Queen of the Blues,” makes a record in a studio in Chicago, 1927, tensions boil between her, her white agent and producer, and bandmates.
“The Midnight Sky”/”Good Morning, Midnight” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Mark L Smith who adapted the novel of the same name by Lily Brooks-Dalton.
Cast. George Clooney, Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, David Oyelowo, Demian Bichir
Plot: A lonely scientist in the Arctic races to stop astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures – Fall)
Writer/Director: Chloé Zhao
Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie
Plot: A woman in her sixties who, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West.
“On The Rocks” (A24 – Fall)
Writer/Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Rashida Jones, Bill Murray, Marlon Wayans, Jessica Henwick, Jenny Slate
Plot: A young mother who reconnects with her larger than life playboy father on an adventure through New York City.
“Prisoner 760” (BBC – Fall)
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Writer: Michael Bronner who adapted the memoir “Guantanamo Diary” by Mohamedou Ould Slahi.
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Levi
Plot: A man held in custody at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp turns towards a pair of lawyers to aid him.
“Red, White, and Water” (A24 – Fall)
Director: Lila Neugebauer
Writer: Elizabeth Sanders
Cast; Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Samira Wiley
Plot: A US soldier suffers a traumatic brain injury while fighting in Afghanistan and struggles to adjust to life back home.
“Respect” (UA – January 15, 2021)
Director: Liesl Tommy
Writer: Tracey Scott Wilson
Cast: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Tate Donovan
Plot: The life story of legendary R&B singer Aretha Franklin.
“Stillwater” (Focus – November 6)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Deanna Dunagan
Plot: A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his daughter who has been arrested for murder.
“Annette” (Amazon – Fall)
Director: Leos Carax
Writers: Ron Mael, Russell Mael
Cast: Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard
Plot: A stand-up comedian and his opera singer wife, have a 2 year old daughter with a surprising gift.
“The Boys In The Band” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: Joe Mantello
Writer; Matt Crowley, who adapted his play of the same name.
Cast: Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer |
Plot: A group of gay men who gather in a NYC apartment for a friend’s birthday party.
“The Eyes Of Tammy Faye” (Searchlight Pictures – Winter)
Director: Michael Showalter
Writer: Abe Sylvia
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Andrew Garfield, Vincent D’Onofrio
Plot: Televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker seek redemption after their religious empire and marriage crumbles.
“French Exit” (Sony Pictures Classics – Fall)
Director: Azazel Jacobs
Writer: Patrick deWitt, who adapted his novel of the same name
Cast: Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Tracy Letts
Plot: A close to penniless widow moves to Paris with her son and cat, who also happens to be her reincarnated husband.
“Herself” (Amazon – Fall)
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Writers: Malcolm Campbell, Clare Dunne
Cast: Cathy Belton, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill
Plot:A young mother escapes her abusive husband and fights back against a broken housing system. She sets out to build her own home and in the process rebuilds her life and re-discovers herself.
“I’m Your Woman” (Amazon – Winter)
Director: Julia Hart
Writers: Julia Hart, Jordan Horowitz
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Frankie Faison, Bill Heck
Plot: A woman must go on the run with her child due to her husband’s crimes. Their lives become intertwined with a man and a woman, forming an unlikely partnership that teaches them more than just how to survive.
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Writer: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Plot: A man takes his girlfriend to meet with his parents, but they find themselves going on a terrifying detour.
“Kajillionaire” (Annapurna – September 18)
Director: Miranda July
Writer: Miranda July
Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez
Plot: A woman’s life is turned upside down when her criminal parents invite an outsider to join them on a major heist they’re planning.
“The King of Staten Island” (Paramount – June 20)
Director: Judd Apatow
Writers: Judd Apatow, Pete Davidson
Cast: Pete Davidson, Bel Powley, Ricky Velez
Plot: Scott has been a case of arrested development since his firefighter dad died. He spends his days smoking weed and dreaming of being a tattoo artist until events force him to grapple with his grief and take his first steps forward in life.
“The Life Ahead” (Netflix – Winter)
Director: Edoardo Ponti
Writer: Ugo Chiti
Cast: Sophia Loren, Abril Zamora, Babak Karimi
Plot: An aging Holocaust survivor forges a bond with a young immigrant from Senegal.
“Mulan” (Disney – September 4)
Director: Niki Caro
Writers: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver
Cast: Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Li Gong
Plot: A young Chinese maiden disguises herself as a male warrior in order to save her father.
“The Prom” (Netflix – Fall)
Director: Ryan Murphy
Writers: Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, Jack Viertel
Cast: Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Andrew Rannells, Keegan-Michael Key, Awkwafina
Plot: Four Broadway actors travel to a conservative town to help a lesbian student banned from bringing her girlfriend to high school prom.
“Those Who Wish Me Dead” (Warner Bros. – Winter)
Director: Taylor Sheridan
Writer: Michael Koryta
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Nicholas Hoult, Jon Bernthal
Plot: A teenage murder witness finds himself pursued by twin assassins in the Montana wilderness with a survival expert tasked with protecting him — and a forest fire threatening to consume them all.
“Unforgiven” (Netflix – Winter)
Director: Nora Fingscheidt
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Sally Wainwright
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jon Bernthal
Plot: Ruth Slater, a woman released from prison after serving a sentence for a violent crime and re-enters a society that refuses to forgive her past.
“The White Tiger” (Netflix- Winter)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Writer: Ramin Bahrani (screenplay)
Cast: Priyanka Chopra, Rajkummar Rao, Nalneesh Neel
Plot: The story of Balram Halwai, a man born to poverty in a village in India, and his epic journey to the top of the heap.
“The Woman in the Window” (20th Century – Fall)
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Tracy Letts who adapted A.J. Finn’s novel of the same name.
Cast: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Wyatt Russell
Plot: An agoraphobic woman living alone in New York begins spying on her new neighbors only to witness a disturbing act of violence.
“Wonder Woman 1984” (Warner Bros. – October 2)
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Geoff Johns, Patty Jenkins
Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Pedro Pascal
Plot: In 1984, during the Cold War, Diana Prince comes into conflict with two formidable foes — media businessman Maxwell Lord and friend-turned-enemy Barbara Minerva (A.K.A. Cheetah) — while reuniting with her love interest Steve Trevor.
2021 Oscar Predictions: Best Picture [Updated August 14]