Throughout 2020, we didn’t need to take a trip to the cinema or fire up Netflix to experience a dystopian, sci-fi nightmare – it was all around us. We can only hope some of the political turmoil, grief, questionable tech ethics and pandemic-induced chaos of the past year will fuel new science-fiction stories in years to come.
But for now, let’s remember that science-fiction is always at its best when it inspires our future, shows us what it means to be human in worlds filled with machines, robots or aliens and gives us hope for what’s coming next. With that in mind, here’s our pick of the science-fiction we’re most looking forward to that’s beaming down in 2021.
We’ve included the biggest blockbusters we’re all on the edges of our seats waiting for (we’re looking at you Villeneuve), fun animation about super robots, just-announced TV shows that we couldn’t find many details about but can’t wait for all the same and a selection of books that cover all kinds of sci-fi goodness, including the death of all men, brain implants, android clones and everything in between.
Because productions, cinema release dates and publishing houses are all behind schedule due to Covid-19, we’ve written the expected release date with all of our choices below. It’s safe to say a few of these will be pushed back further, but we’ll change the details as soon as we hear anything.
Expected release date: October 1, 2021
We’ve been waiting for Dune for a long, long time as it was pushed back (and back again) due to Covid-19. Now we can say with some confidence that it’ll arrive in 2021. Although whether it’ll be safe enough to watch on the big screen or you’ll have to settle with streaming it at home still remains to be seen.
Director Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival, Enemy, Blade Runner 2049) has imagined Frank Herbert’s science-fiction fantasy classic Dune with an all-star cast behind him, including Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica.
Anyone who’s read Herbert’s book won’t be surprised to learn that taking this epic story with all its rich detail from page to screen is one hell of a monumental task – just ask David Lynch, whose 1984 version was panned but is actually bizarrely brilliant. However, Villeneuve has more than proved he’s up to the challenge and handles thoughtful sci-fi, character depth and fantastic set design exceptionally well. This might be one of the most hyped-up sci-fi movies of all time, but it’s at the top of our list because we’re just as excited as everyone else.
Expected release date: April 16, 2021
In Bios, Tom Hanks plays an inventor and engineer who is (maybe?) the last man on Earth after a solar event has caused global havoc. Finch builds an android to keep his dog company in case something happens to him and the story follows the three of them as they journey across the country. There aren’t many more details available just yet, but this sounds like an interesting dystopian sci-fi story with a lot of heart – or at least that’s what we can infer from the fact that Tom Hanks stars in it and a dog is one of the main plot points.
3. Chaos Walking
Expected release date: March 5, 2021
Based on the science-fiction book The Knife of Never Letting Go (which is part of the Chaos Walking trilogy) by Patrick Ness, Chaos Walking stars Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland and Mads Mikkelsen.
The premise might be a little strange to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but it's really compelling – even if the main thing you ask yourself is: how the hell do they show that on screen? A woman (that’d be Ridley) crash lands on a planet where there are no other women and men have something called 'the Noise', which displays their thoughts.
It’s going to be great to see another one of Patrick Ness’ stories imagined on film – the 2016 movie A Monster Calls was based on his novel of the same name. However, Chaos Walking, like so many movies recently, has been hampered with problems, not to mention significant reshoots and rewrites. We’ve got everything crossed that means it’ll be exceptional when it comes out – even though the release date was pushed back again at the time of writing.
Expected release date: May 28, 2021
Infinite is based on D. Eric Maikranz's 2009 novel The Reincarnationist Papers. The premise is a fairly simple but tantalising one: Evan McCauley learns his hallucinations are actually visions from past lives. There’s not much information around about how the movie will pan out, but the book follows Evan’s discovery that he’s not the only person able to glimpse into these former versions of himself.
The movie was initially meant to star Chris Evans in the leading role, but due to conflicting schedules, Mark Wahlberg is now playing Evan. What’s exciting about Infinite is Antoine Fuqua is directing it. He’s probably best known for directing Training Day, but has also made a bunch of great action movies over the years, including Shooter and The Equalizer.
5. The Matrix 4
Expected release date: December 22, 2021
Matrix 4! Another Matrix! This is huge, huge news for fans of the original trilogy. Especially because both Lily and Lana Wachowski have been insistent there would be no more, but here it is! Finally! Well, almost. As we all know, the events of 2020 have pushed back schedules, but the we've got everything crossed that the long-awaited fourth instalment of The Matrix franchise will be released at the end of 2021 as planned.
As you might expect, the details of The Matrix 4 have been mostly kept under wraps. What we do know is that Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Ann Moss and Jada Pinkett Smith will be returning. What's more, a number of photos have been shared of the cast and crew filming in the streets of San Francisco and it’s tantalising to guess where the fourth installment might be taking them. Will there be a new Matrix? Are there other simulated realities the characters will find themselves in?
There’s such rich material to draw from here and we’ve got sky-high hopes for Lana Wachowski, who will be directing the movie without her sister Lily this time. The only bad news is, according to reports, it won't have Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus) in it, which is a huge shame.
Expected release date: TBC
There are a lot of heavy science-fiction movies on the cards for 2021, so we breathed a sigh of relief when we learned about Connected. This is a computer animated family comedy with a great cast, including Maya Rudolph, Danny McBride and Olivia Colman. It's a different take on the big scary robot uprising storyline as it puts a family at the front and center of the action. The trailer (above) is great, there's a scene in which robots can't work out if a pug is a dog, a pig or bread, which is brilliant and laugh out loud funny.
Expected release date: 16 April, 2021
The movie press was full of details about Reminiscence when it was first announced back in 2019, but like a lot of things, has been eerily quiet ever since. However, it looks like the movie is still on the cards and will be released in Spring 2021.
It's all about memories and an excellent piece over on Deadline (opens in new tab) explains it's a thoughtful exploration of memory, memory-retrieving tech and romance.
The basic premise is a kind of memory-searching private eye (played by Hugh Jackman) recaptures treasured memories for his clients by helping them delve into their past. It also stars Rebecca Ferguson and Thandie Newton, so not only does the story sound like a gripping one, that's one hell of a great cast too.
What's more, the film is both written and directed by Lisa Joy who is the co-creator and executive producer of Westworld, so expect cerebral science-fiction with lots of twists and turns.
8. The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird
Expected release date: April 27, 2021
If you feel like it's way too soon to be reading about fictional pandemics, keep scrolling. If you were one of the many, many people who heard about Covid-19 and immediately put on the movie Contagion, this might be for you.
The End of Men is set in 2025 when a mysterious virus that kills only men is sweeping across the globe. The story unfolds in a series of first-person narratives told by scientists and those developing a vaccine. The result is a book that's already received a bunch of glowing reviews and is bound to do well when it's released in Spring 2021.
9. Under the Blue by Oana Aristide
Expected release date: March 11, 2021
Set in a post-pandemic world – which is extremely prescient right now for all too obvious reasons – Under the Blue weaves two narratives together. In one, an artist travels across Europe in search of somewhere safe. In another, computer scientists feed their baby, Talos. Except Talos isn't a baby at all, but an advanced AI programme created to predict what's next for the human race.
The blurb for Under the Blue on Amazon ends with this line: "an apocalyptic road novel to frighten and thrill," which couldn't be more mesmerising. We've had this one preordered for months.
10. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Expected release date: May 4, 2021
Andy Weir wrote The Martian, his best-selling first novel, which was adapted into a movie starring Matt Damon. Since then, he's written Artemis and his latest space story is called Project Hail Mary, which is released in Spring, 2021.
Project Hail Mary is about an astronaut who's on an extremely important mission but wakes up to find his crew dead and everything else in turmoil. It's described as "part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey", and, like his other novels, is sure to appeal to those who like their science-fiction based more firmly in science rather than the fantastical.
11. The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey
Expected release date: February 16, 2021
Sarah Gailey's best-selling novel debut, Magic For Liars, was published in 2019. Now just two years later they've followed it up with The Echo Wife. This is a dark comedy, romance and sci-fi story rolled into one unputdownable novel. A truly billboard-worthy review on Amazon reads: "The Echo Wife is a speculative thriller reminiscent of Ex Machina that'll have dark thoughts sliding under your skin and remaining there indefinitely." We preordered this so fast after reading that endorsement we nearly sprained a finger.
12. The Effort by Claire Holroyde
Expected release date: January 12, 2021
This is a heartfelt take on the comet-hurtling-towards-Earth concept. A group of scientists, researchers and engineers come together to try and figure out what can be done at the same time as the story follows other people all over the globe coming to terms with an uncertain future, including a photographer keen to capture the beauty of the natural world before it's gone, as well as a marine biologist who falls in love for the first time.
13. The Future is Yours by Dan Frey
Expected release date: Feb 9, 2021
There's a new technology in town and it shows you what life will be like one year from now. Ben and Adhi, the brains behind the revolutionary start-up who created the future forecasting computer, are suddenly the hottest commodities in Silicon Valley. But, as you might expect, when you can predict the future with the touch of a button, things are likely going to go very, very wrong. This is a story that unfolds through emails, texts and blog posts. In a time when we're only just waking up to the immense, unfathomable power tech companies wield, this is an interesting look at what happens when innovative ideas go one step too far.
14. We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker
Expected release date: May 11, 2021
This is a story about brain implants, which you might think you've read about before or seen covered a few times on Black Mirror and the like, but this is a very personal and thoughtful look at the implications of bringing a new technology into your home, your family and your mind.
One Amazon reviewer writes: "We Are Satellites will drill a tiny—entirely painless—aperture in the side of your skull, snake its way inside, and rewire how you think about the lines between yourself, technology, and those we love.” Sure few of us are contemplating brain implants these days, but we could all do with taking a more critical look at the role technology plays in our lives, so this couldn't have come at a better time.
15. Alien (comic)
Expected release date: March, 2021
In Summer 2020, Marvel announced (opens in new tab) that it'd be launching three new comics properties: Alien (!), Predator (!) and Alien vs. Predator (!).
There have been a number of Alien comics in the past from Dark Horse comics, but this is the debut of the Alien franchise (not just the Alien comics) from its new owners: Disney. There's a lot of pressure for Disney to do something awesome with it straight out the gate and with Eisner-nominated writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson (Empyre: Captain America, The Last God) and artist Salvador Larroca (Doctor Doom, X-Men, The Invincible Iron Man) creating the new comic, we have high hopes.
According to Marvel (opens in new tab), the all-new Alien comic will feature a Weyland-Yutani mercenary named Gabriel Cruz as he has to contend with a new breed of xenomorph. Marvel promises there'll be a mix of new and classic characters, so the hope is it'll keep both longtime fans and newcomers happy.
16. Stranger Things, Season 4
Expected release date: TBC
There's no official release date for Stranger Things, Season 4 just yet, but we've got everything crossed we won't have to wait too long. We're not sure what to expect from the next season as both the cast and crew have been secretive, revealing just enough to keep us tantalisingly hooked on any scrap of news. But we know one thing: Hopper's alive! He had to be really, didn't he? But it was hit and miss for a minute there.
We've got an extensive Stranger Things, Season 4 guide here on TechRadar, which you should check out for all the latest news and rumors about what happens next to our favorite kids from Hawkins, Indiana, now they're not all in Hawkins anymore.
Expected release date: TBC
Foundation is an upcoming TV series that, like most on this list, doesn't have an official release date yet. What we do know about this new series, however, is that Foundation is based on famous sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy of books.
The Foundation trilogy is an intricate saga about humans who are scattered on multiple planets throughout the galaxy and all live under the rule of the Galactic Empire. If that sounds familiar, it's because a lot of later sci-fi – yes, including Star Wars – was likely influenced by Asimov's stories.
According to Deadline (opens in new tab), numerous attempts have been made to adapt the books over the years but this series has been snapped up by Apple TV and has screenwriter and filmmaker David S. Goyer (Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Man of Steel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and screenwriter and producer Josh Friedman at the helm.
18. Station Eleven
Expected release date: TBC
Brace yourselves, it's time for yet another pandemic-themed story. This mini-series is based on the award-winning 2014 novel of the same name by Emily St. John Mandel. It's about the 'Georgia Flu', which has ravaged the world and killed a huge amount of the population.
Station Eleven was ordered by the streaming service HBO Max and although filming began in early 2020, there's no word on a release date just yet. What we do know is that Mackenzie Davis (Terminator: Dark Fate, Blade Runner 2049) and Himesh Patel (Yesterday, Tenet) have starring roles.
19. Picard, Season 2
Expected release date: TBC
The first season of Picard divided Star Trek fans. Some loved it and the extra layers it added to what we already know about the Jean-Luc Picard universe, others thought it was a step too far. We're die-hard Trekkies, love anything to do with ancient myths and prophecies and would happily sit and listen to Patrick Stewart read a shopping list, so we were hooked from the start.
The bad news is, we're not sure when to expect season 2 of Picard. Although originally planned for 2021, we wouldn't be surprised if it's pushed back into 2022 at this rate. At the time of writing, filming is set to begin at the start of 2021.
20. The Expanse, Season 6
Expected release date: TBC
Season five of the Amazon Prime Video hit science-fiction TV series might not have landed at the time of writing, but the creators have already revealed there will be a sixth season – and it might even be with us as soon as the end of 2021 if everything goes to plan. That's the good news. The bad news is this is expected to be the final season of the show.
For those who haven't fallen for the crew of the Rocci yet, this is science-fiction at its best. Based on the series of novels of the same name by James S. A. Corey, The Expanise is set in a fictional future in which humans have colonised most of the solar system but have taken all of their feuds, racism and greed with them.
21. Marvel's TV shows: WandaVision, Loki, etc
Expected release date: January 15, 2021
We were going to add each new Marvel TV show on the cards for 2021 to this list, but it would take up most of it. So here, in the final spot, let's take a quick look at all of the new Marvel TV shows that'll be landing on Disney+ in 2021.
All part of what's known as the MCU Phase Four TV slate, the upcoming TV shows include WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye.
WandaVision is the first to land on our screens on January 15, 2021 and will focus on, you guessed it, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). The six-hour series has an interesting premise – and goes some way to explaining the cheesy 50s-style press shots Disney has been sharing. Wanda and Vision are trying to conceal their powers and find themselves in what an EW article (opens in new tab) calls "a strange fantasy world of suburban bliss".
- New Star Wars movies and TV shows: every announcement explained