July 2021’s Best Streaming Titles: He-Man, Robocop, Vertigo, Black Widow, Planet of the Apes

The masters of the universe, the ultimate cop, classic Hitchcock, an MCU prequel, Dr. Zaius, and more.
Black Widow - Cate Shortland
Scarlett Johansson returns in Black Widow

As Netflix et al. add more content, it’s difficult to know what to look for amidst all of the newly added titles. So at the start of every month, I publish a list of particularly noteworthy and interesting movies and TV shows to add to your streaming queues.

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Netflix

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Jul 1)

Gundam is one of the most famous and iconic anime series of all time, and arguably the most famous “giant robot” series — and Netflix is diving into it big time. The original three Gundam movies — which offer a condensed version of the original series — are currently streaming, and now Netflix will begin streaming Hathaway, the first in a new trilogy of movies set shortly after that original Gundam trilogy. The new trilogy follows a young revolutionary battling the oppressive Earth Federation as a member of a terrorist organization, which is in keeping with the Gundam franchise’s emphasis on realistic politics and human drama right alongside the giant robot action.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Jul 1)

True story: When I was in high school, a friend let me borrow a copy of Terminator 2 that he’d recorded off HBO. Not only was the movie mind-blowing in terms of special effects and action, but it was one of my first brushes with fan obsession. I must’ve watched the movie ten times in a single week. (I’m surprised that VHS tape survived the ordeal.) 26 years later, the movie still holds up as an action masterpiece, and the unstoppable liquid metal T‑1000 — played excellently by Robert Patrick — remains one of movie sci-fi’s best and most cleverly devised antagonists.

Gunpowder Milkshake (Jul 14)

Karen Gillan and Lena Headey star in this Netflix original about an assassin who must team up with her long-lost mother to protect a young girl in the midst of an all-out gang war. There’s definitely some John Wick-isms here, but hopefully, Gunpowder Milkshake is a better film than 2019’s Polar, which billed itself as a stylish hitman action movie, too. Gunpowder Milkshake also stars Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Paul Giamatti.

BEASTARS, Season 2 (Jul 15)

In the world of BEASTARS, there’s a strict divide between carnivores and herbivores. (Did I mention the series is set in a high school populated by anthropomorphized animals?) But that gets challenged when a wolf student falls in love with a rabbit student, and together, they try and solve the mystery of a vicious killing on school grounds. The second season promises to delve even deeper into the school’s mysteries and factions.

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans (Jul 21)

In this feature-length conclusion to Guillermo del Toro critically acclaimed Tales of Arcadia — which began with 2016’s Trollhunters — Jim Lake, Claire Nuñez, and their human, troll, and alien allies must once again defend the town of Arcadia Oaks from a new menace. The animated film will feature the voices of Emile Hirsch, Lexi Medrano, Kelsey Grammer, Alfred Molina, Tatiana Maslany, Nick Offerman, and many more.

Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Jul 23)

I was never the biggest He-Man fan as a kid, but will I watch this Kevin Smith-directed sequel to the original ’80s series? I’ll definitely give it a shot. Revelation is set decades after the original He-Man series, where the former heroes of Eternia must overcome their differences to prevent the end of the universe. The series’ voice cast looks particularly impressive, with Diedrich Bader, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Lena Headey, and best of all, Mark Hamill as Skeletor.

Django Unchained (Jul 24)

Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz star as a pair of bounty hunters who travel through the pre-Civil War South to track down outlaws and find Foxx’s wife. Which inevitably brings them into conflict with Calvin J. Candie, a vicious and vile slaveowner. Django Unchained has the usual blend of clever dialog and ultra-violence one expects from a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with the added bonus of watching Foxx and Waltz take out plantations and slaveowners. The movie also stars Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie.

Transformers: War for Cybertron: Kingdom (Jul 29)

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed Netflix’s revamp of the classic Transformers series. It’s certainly a good deal more dour and gloomy than those episodes of yore, and the animation sometimes leaves something to be desired, but there’s an intensity and urgency to its story about the doomed war between the Autobots and Decepticons that I find intriguing. In this final installment, the warring factions make their way to prehistoric Earth — where there might already be something waiting for them.

The Last Mercenary (Jul 30)

The Muscles from Brussels comes to Netflix. Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a secret agent who disappeared years ago. But when his estranged son is falsely accused of a crime, he comes out of hiding to do battle with an international terrorist organization. As an ’80s kid, I probably have an inordinate fondness for Van Damme, but he’s shown a refreshing self-awareness (e.g., JCVD) re. his action roles, which gives me hope that The Last Mercenary will be fun to watch.

Here’s everything arriving on Netflix in July 2021.


Hulu

Big Fish (Jul 1)

Tim Burton is, to put it mildly, an eccentric director. But Big Fish finds him channelling those eccentricities into one of his most straightforward and charming movies, about a man who discovers that there might be some truth to all of his father’s tall tales. Both of Burton’s parents died in the years leading up to his work on Big Fish, which almost certainly informs its storyline and gives it some emotional heft.

Caddyshack (Jul 1)

I consider my first viewing of Caddyshack a foundational experience. Granted, I didn’t understand everything that went on — I just thought it was funny when Bill Murray tried to blow up the golf course — but I’ve since come to appreciate Chevy Chase’s screwball humor, the endless sight gags and puns, and of course, that sweet, smooth Kenny Loggins soundtrack.

The Conversation (Jul 1)

In this psychological thriller from Francis Ford Coppola, Gene Hackman plays a surveillance expert who becomes convinced that he’s uncovered evidence of terrible crime. But as he tries to unravel the mystery, his own psyche begins to unravel, too. Considered one of Coppola’s best films, The Conversation was nominated for numerous awards when it came out in 1974, and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Eliminators (Jul 1)

Even when he stars in low budget, direct-to-video fare like Eliminators, I can’t help but find Scott Adkins eminently watchable. The guy’s one of the best on-screen martial artists working today, and he brings 100% to whatever film he’s in. In Eliminators — not to be confused with the 1986 sci-fi movie of the same name — Adkins plays a former federal agent who must come out of hiding when a crime boss decides to hunt down him and his daughter. And cue countless goons getting roundhouse kicked in the face.

Galaxy Quest (Jul 1)

The premise — actors from a classic sci-fi TV series are kidnapped by aliens who believe the show to be real — makes it sound like Galaxy Quest does nothing but poke fun at all things Star Trek. Which it does, and brilliantly so, but its jokes are coming from a place of love. As a result, it’s the best kind of parody, one that recognizes the inherent silliness of Star Trek while also capturing what makes Star Trek so great in the first place. By Grabthar’s hammer, indeed.

Robocop (Jul 1)

On its surface, Robocop seems like a pretty straightforward action/sci-fi movie: dedicated cop gets gunned down by vicious thugs and is reborn as an unstoppable cybernetic enforcer. But this being a Paul Verhoeven movie, it’s no surprise that Robocop also packs a darkly satirical edge that skewers corporate greed.

Bill & Ted Face the Music (Jul 2)

William S. “Bill” Preston, Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan were destined to unite the world with the perfect song. Now squarely in middle age, the wannabe rock stars have unfortunately failed to live up to their destiny — which is a shame, because the world still needs saving. This time out, they’re joined by their music-loving daughters, as well as some familiar faces. Bill & Ted Face the Music is far more excellent than it has any right to; Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves slip right back into their famous roles, and Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine are a lot of fun as their daughters.

Summer of Soul (Jul 2)

This documentary by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson chronicles The Harlem Cultural Festival, a six-week-long arts and music festival took place in 1969 around the same time as Woodstock. Although the festival was filmed, the footage was never released until Thompson’s documentary. Summer of Soul, which won the Sundance festival’s Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, features never-before-seen performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and B.B. King (to name a few).

Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (Jul 15)

Raiders of the Lost Ark turned 40 earlier this year, so now’s a perfect time to watch this celebrated documentary about a group of Raiders fans who set out, as kids in the ’80s, to make their own version of the film.

Here’s everything arriving on Hulu in July 2021.


Amazon Prime

Alien (Jul 1)

Ridley Scott’s Alien is widely considered one of the best sci-fi and horror movies of all time, as the crew of a small spaceship find themselves hunted by a sinister creature that seems unstoppable. Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, and Ian Holm, and featuring designs by the legendary H. R. Giger, Alien would kick off a franchise of movies, comics, and video games — and introduce moviegoers to one of cinema’s most iconic heroines, Ellen Ripley.

Hellboy (Jul 1)

Guillermo del Toro has proven himself with fantastical arthouse fare like Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. However, his adaptation of Mike Mignola’s acclaimed Hellboy comic is proof that the director is skilled at more straightforward action stuff, as well (read my review). Well, maybe “straightforward.” In Hellboy, a demonic-looking superhero and a clandestine government agency square off against Nazi occultists who want to summon extra-dimensional horrors that will bring about the end of the world.

Rear Window (Jul 1)

In this classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller, a photographer (James Stewart) who’s recuperating from a broken leg spends his time spying on his neighbors from his apartment’s rear window. But what begins as bored voyeurism evolves into something far more sinister when he believes he’s seen evidence of a murder. The film, which also stars Grace Kelly, has been lauded as one of Hitchcock’s best.

Vertigo (Jul 1)

Another classic Alfred Hitchcock film, in which a retired detective (also played by James Stewart) plagued by intense vertigo is hired to follow a woman (Kim Novak). Things get weird when the two fall for each other, only for her to commit suicide. And things get even weirder when he encounters another woman who looks just like the first. An artful and suspenseful exploration of psychological and romantic obsession, Vertigo has often challenged Citizen Kane’s status as the best film of all time.

The Tomorrow War (Jul 2)

In this sci-fi action film starring Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovski, and J. K. Simmons, soldiers from the past are brought forward in time to help Earth battle alien invaders. This is the live-action directorial debut by Chris McKay, who previously worked on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. The Tomorrow War was originally supposed to be released in theaters last year, but as a result of the COVID pandemic, Amazon acquired the film for its Prime Video streaming service.

Here’s everything arriving on Amazon in July 2021. As usual, there’s some overlap between Hulu and Amazon’s offerings.


Disney+

Black Widow (Jul 9)

Black Widow was originally scheduled to come out last May only to get pushed back several times due to COVID. But now, it’s officially arriving in both theaters and on Disney+ (though Disney+ subscribers will need to pay an additional fee to watch it as a “Premier Access” title). The MCU’s latest film is set between Captain America: Civil War and the final Avengers movies, and finds Natasha Romanoff reuniting with figures from her past as a Russian spy in order to take on a new conspiracy. Given Romanoff’s fate in Avengers: Endgame, however, I suspect there might be more going on.

Jungle Cruise (Jul 30)

I don’t blame you if you find yourself feeling skeptical pretty skeptical about a movie based on a Disney theme park attraction, but the first couple of Pirates of the Caribbean movies turned out pretty well, right? Plus, Jungle Cruise will almost certainly benefit from the charisma of Dwayne Johnson, who plays a curmudgeonly riverboat captain hired by Emily Blunt’s scientist to help her find the Tree of Life. Jungle Cruise also stars Paul Giamatti, Jesse Plemons, and Jack Whitehall. Like Black Widow, Jungle Cruise will be released in theaters and as a “Premier Access” title.

Here’s everything arriving on Disney+ in July 2021.


HBO Max

Demolition Man (Jul 1)

Now here’s a slice of prime ’90s Hollywood “so bad it’s good” cinematic fluff. In The Demolition Man, criminals are reprogrammed while in cryogenic stasis, which leads to a utopian society. Until a psychopath breaks free, that is, and — of course — there’s only one man who can stop him. Come for the gratuitous violence and cheesy one-liners, stay for Wesley Snipes’ scene-chewing and Sylvester Stallone’s “man out of time” shtick.

No Sudden Move (Jul 1)

An ensemble film about a heist that goes wrong, and it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh?! Yes, please. Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven is one of our family’s favorite movies, so we’ll be watching this one ASAP. Don Cheadle and Benecio del Toro star as a pair of small-time crooks who find themselves in over their heads when a seemingly simple job goes sideways. The movie also stars Brendan Fraser, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta, and Amy Seimetz.

Planet of the Apes (Jul 1)

In this celebrated sci-fi film, a group of astronauts crash on a distant planet thousands of years in the future. And as the title implies, it’s a planet run by super-intelligent apes who view the astronauts — led by Charlton Heston in one of his most famous roles — as a threat to their civilization. All of which sets up one of the great twists in movie history (and inspired one of the greatest Simpsons musical numbers of all time).

Reservoir Dogs (Jul 1)

Quentin Tarantino’s directorial debut is a stylish and bloody film about a group of thieves trying to find the mole in their midst after a heist goes wrong. Reservoir Dogs features all of the usual Tarantino-isms — whip-smart (and profane) dialog, pop culture references, non-linear storylines — and has been called the “greatest independent film of all time” by some.

Here’s everything arriving on HBO Max in July 2021.


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