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Movie Preview Revisited

From Antebellum to Sherlock Holmes, another look at upcoming films likely to have steampunk appeal

Thursday, July 9, 2020
Movie posters
The Personal History of David Copperfield (Searchlight Pictures); Antebellum (Lionsgate); The King’s Man (20th Century Fox)

When we ran our 2020 movie preview in January, little did we know that a pandemic would wipe out the best-laid plans of the entertainment business. In much of the U.S., indoor theaters have been closed for months, and studios have been forced to re-schedule their planned releases, in many cases until next year.

As it stands now, studios are looking at late July or early August to begin rolling out major new theatrical releases. One key indicator is Tenet, a highly anticipated science fiction spy thriller from Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. initially planned a July 17 release, then pushed that to July 31. Now it’s slated for an Aug. 12 premiere.

Disney’s Mulan, another major release, has been delayed three times and is now scheduled to hit the screens on Aug. 21. As the pandemic continues to ravage parts of the U.S., there’s no telling if those dates will hold.

With all that in mind, here’s another look at upcoming movies likely to appeal to steampunk fans. Five are currently scheduled to come out this year, but two—Jungle Cruise and Sherlock Holmes 3—are now slated for release in 2021.

Update: (July 20) Warner Bros. has indefinitely postponed release of Tenet. Entertainment trade publications are reporting that the film could open overseas before a U.S. release. It’s not yet clear what impact this will have on other release dates, but don’t be surprised if they change.

The Personal History of David Copperfield

Opens: Aug. 14

Director: Armando Iannucci

Cast: Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Paul Whitehouse and Gwendoline Christie.

This comedic retelling of the Dickens novel premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival and garnered positive reviews. It stars Dev Patel in the title role, along with an all-star supporting cast that includes Tilda Swinton as Betsey Trotwood, Peter Capaldi as Mr. Micawber, Hugh Laurie as Mr. Dick, and Ben Whishaw as Uriah Heep.

Searchlight Pictures originally planned to release the film on May 8, but pushed it back to Aug. 14.

Armando Iannucci previously directed In The Loop and The Death of Stalin. He’s also known for his television work, including The Thick of It in the UK and the HBO comedies Veep and Avenue 5.


Opens: Aug. 21, 2020

Director: Michael Almereyda

Cast: Ethan Hawke, Eve Hewson, Kyle MacLachlan, Lucy Walters, Jim Gaffigan, Josh Hamilton

This unconventional biopic, starring Ethan Hawke as the inventor, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and garnered mostly positive reviews. In one scene, Tesla gets into an ice cream fight with Thomas Edison. In another, Tesla sings “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” a 1985 song by Tears for Fears. Director Michael Almereyda cited Comedy Central’s Drunk History as an influence. U.S. distributor IFC Films is sticking to its original Aug. 21 release date, when it will also be available on demand.


Opens: Aug. 21, 2020

Directors: Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz

Cast: Janelle Monáe, Marque Richardson, Eric Lange, Jack Huston, Gabourey Sidibe

In this thriller, Janelle Monáe portrays a successful African-American author who “finds herself trapped in a horrifying reality and must uncover the mind-bending mystery before it’s too late.” Other than that, the filmmakers have not revealed plot details, but based on the trailer, the horror appears to be slavery in the Antebellum South, either through time travel or a constructed reality. It seems reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s 1979 novel Kindred, but there’s no official indication that the film is an adaptation.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Opens: Aug. 21

Director: Dean Parisot

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving, Anthony Carrigan, Kid Cudi, Jillian Bell, Hal Landon Jr., Amy Stoch, Jayma Mays, Erinn Hayes, Beck Bennett, Holland Taylor, Kristen Schaal

The time-traveling slackers from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure are back 40 years later as middle-aged fathers. This time, they’re challenged to create a song that will save the universe. Part of the fun of the first movie was seeing comedic portrayals of historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and Beethoven. Based on the new trailer, it appears that the time-travel action happens mostly in the future. William Sadler returns as the Grim Reaper, and Anthony Carrigan plays a villain.

The script is by Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, who also wrote the first two Bill & Ted movies. Parisot is best known as the director of GalaxyQuest.

The King’s Man

Opens: Sept. 18

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Daniel Brühl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Stanley Tucci

This prequel to the Kingsman spy movies is set in the 1910s. The Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) joins forces with a young protégé (Harris Dickinson) to foil an evil plot by a group of tyrants and criminal masterminds.

The characters include numerous real-life historical figures, among them Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin and Tom Hollander in three roles, as King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and Tsar Nicholas II (they were cousins who resembled each other). Daniel Brühl plays Felix Yusupov, a Russian aristocrat who—in real life—claimed credit for assassinating Rasputin. Of course, anything can happen in the movies. It also appears that Austrian actress Valerie Pachner will portray legendary spy Mata Hari, though she isn’t listed in the official credits.

20th Century Fox released a new trailer on June 21. The film is still on target for a Sept. 18 release.

Jungle Cruise

Opens: July 30, 2021

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Édgar Ramírez

Walt Disney Pictures originally planned to release this period adventure on July 24, but due to the pandemic, it’s been pushed back to next year. Set in the early 20th century, it stars Dwayne Johnson as a riverboat captain who takes scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) on a voyage through the Amazon in search of a tree with healing powers. As with Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s based on a Disney theme park ride, and the studio hopes it will be the basis for a new blockbuster movie franchise.

Disney released a new trailer for the film on March 10. At approximately 1:18, Johnson’s character poses the philosophical question, “Who brings a submarine to the Amazon?”

Sherlock Holmes 3

Opens: Dec. 22, 2021

Director: Dexter Fletcher

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

The third installment of the steampunkish Sherlock Holmes reboot was originally slated to premiere this December but was pushed back a year. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law will reprise their respective roles as Holmes and Watson, while Dexter Fletcher replaces Guy Ritchie in the director’s chair. Fletcher is best known as the director of two rock star biopics: Bohemian Rhapsody about Queen and Rocketman about Elton John. The IMDb profile indicates that the film is currently in pre-production.

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