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The must-see movies showing at Sundance Film Festival 2021

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah
(Image credit: IMDb)

Sundance is back for another year, and this time the indie film festival has gone digital. Running from January 28 to February 3, movies are being shown on satellite screens around the US where it's safe to do so, and also streaming online. This year, Sundance boasts a slate that includes 71 feature-length movies (66 of which will be world premieres), so there's a lot to get stuck into.

We've narrowed down this vast selection of movies to pick out our must-see watches. Featuring big names both in front of and behind the camera, from Nicolas Cage to Edgar Wright, and ranging in form from musical documentary to horror movie to animated comedy, there should be something at Sundance 2021 for everyone. Read on to find out our recommendations for this year's festival, including Judas and the Black Messiah, Prisoners of the Ghostland, and The World to Come.

Land

Robin Wright in Land

(Image credit: Focus Features)

Robin Wright’s directorial debut, Land, tells the story of a woman’s search for meaning in the American wilderness after a near-death experience. Wright also stars in the feature, alongside Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight, Alien: Covenant) and Kim Dickens (Gone Girl, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children). The star of blockbusters including Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman, as well as prestige TV show House of Cards, Wright’s first foray behind the camera is not one to miss.

Passing

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in Passing

(Image credit: AUM Group)

Another directorial debut, this time from Rebecca Hall (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Iron Man 3). Passing is based on the novel of the same name by Nella Larsen and stars Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as mixed-race childhood friends who reunite in adulthood and become obsessed with one another's lives. The supporting cast includes Selma’s André Holland, True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård, and The Queen’s Gambit’s Bill Camp.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Lakeith Stanfield in Judas and the Black Messiah

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The movie follows the life of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Black Panther Party in the late '60s, and his betrayal at the hands of FBI informant William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). The supporting cast includes I'm Thinking of Ending Things' Jesse Plemons, Moonlight's Ashton Sanders, and Martin Sheen. If you miss it at Sundance, it's out in cinemas and on HBO Max on February 12.

The Sparks Brothers

Ron Mael and Russell Mael in The Sparks Brothers

(Image credit: MRC)

Edgar Wright’s music documentary is about the brothers behind the band Sparks, Ron and Russell Mael. The film combines interviews and animation to explore the band's five-decade  career, which spawned 25 studio albums. Wright is known for movies like Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Baby Driver. His next release is the horror movie Last Night in Soho, starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Matt Smith.

Mayday

Grace Van Patten in Mayday

(Image credit: Secret Engine)

The directorial debut from Karen Cinorre stars Grace Van Patten (The Meyerowitz Stories, Under the Silver Lake), Mia Goth (Suspiria, Emma.), singer-songwriter Soko, and Juliette Lewis (From Dusk Till Dawn, Whip It!). It follows Ana (Van Patten), who's transported to a dreamlike and dangerous land where she joins an army of girls engaged in a never-ending war. Caught up in this exhilarating world, Ana isn't sure she can be the killer her new allies want her to be.

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Nick Cassavetes and Nicolas Cage in Prisoners of the Ghostland

(Image credit: Patriot Pictures)

This crime thriller is the English-language debut from Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono and stars Nicolas Cage, Imogen Poots (Vivarium, Black Christmas), and Sofia Boutella (Star Trek Beyond, Atomic Blonde). Cage plays a notorious criminal who’s sent to rescue a governor’s abducted daughter from a dark, supernatural universe. In order to escape, he must break the evil curse controlling the mysterious Ghostland.

The World to Come

Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby in The World to Come

(Image credit: Bleecker Street (via Sundance 2021))

Starring Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman, Hobbs & Shaw) and Casey Affleck (Interstellar, Manchester by the Sea), The World to Come is set in mid-19th century America and follows two neighboring couples living on a remote part of the East Coast who are battling hardship and isolation. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them's Katherine Waterston and First Man's Christopher Abbot also star.

How It Ends

Zoe Lister-Jones in How It Ends

(Image credit: Mister Lister Films (via Sundance 2021))

On the last day on Earth, a woman goes on a journey through LA to make it to her last party before the world ends, running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way. The movie stars Olivia Wilde (Rush, Life Itself), Helen Hunt (The Sessions, As Good As It Gets) Fred Armisen (Portlandia, Big Mouth), and Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl, Life in Pieces), who also co-wrote and co-directed the project. 

In The Earth

In the Earth

(Image credit: Neon (via Sundance 2021))

As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus (sound familiar?), a scientist and park scout venture deep into a forest for a routine equipment run. Directed by Ben Wheatley, the horror movies stars Joel Fry (Yesterday, Game of Thrones), Hayley Squires (I, Daniel Blake, In Fabric), and Reece Shearsmith (The World's End, Good Omens) and was made over the course of 15 days in August 2020.

Censor

Censor

(Image credit: Protagonist Pictures)

When film censor Enid (Raised by Wolves’ Niamh Algar) is asked to review a disturbing film from the archive that echoes her hazy childhood memories, she begins to unravel how it’s tied to her past and her quest begins to dissolve the line between fiction and reality. Vincent Franklin (Peterloo, Yesterday) and Nicholas Burns (The Crown) also star in this Prano Bailey-Bond-directed horror.

Cryptozoo

Cryptozoo

(Image credit: Electric Chinoland)

This animated comedy takes place at a mythological zoo in ’60s San Francisco, where a Japanese creature with the power to eat dreams escapes and finds itself wrecking havoc. As the cryptozookeepers struggle to capture it, they begin to wonder if keeping these creatures behind bars is the right thing to do. It features the voices of Michael Cera, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse's Lake Bell, The Ballad of Buster Scrugg's Zoe Kazan, and The Grand Budapest Hotel's Jason Schwartzman.


Total Film and GamesRadar+ will be at Sundance 2021, bringing you all the latest film reviews. Make sure to follow along on our Twitter. In the meantime, be sure to check out all the best Netflix movies to watch right now.