2021 movie preview: Our 40 most anticipated films

Yahoo Entertainment Staff
·22 min read

Let’s try this again.

Of the 40 titles promised on our 2020 movie preview, 27 of them (27!) were delayed until 2021 or beyond due to the coronavirus pandemic. With a vaccine now being distributed, hopes are high that the movie industry can recover from a devastating year in which only one movie grossed over $200 million (that would be the January-released 2020 box office champion Bad Boys for Life) and many suggested the very long-term viability of moviegoing could be severely threatened by AT&T’s shocking announcement that all of their Warner Bros. releases (and they’ve got some biggies) will be released “day and date” in theaters and on-demand via HBO Max.

Judas and the Black Messiah, No Time To Die, A Quiet Place II and the cast of The Eternals. (Photo: Everett Collection / Getty Images)
Judas and the Black Messiah, No Time To Die, A Quiet Place II and the cast of The Eternals. (Photo: Everett Collection / Getty Images)

Here’s the good news, though: Given the backlog of shuffled release dates, there are a lot of movies with the potential to pull audiences back into theaters — once it’s safe, anyway. Here’s our countdown of the most anticipated movies of 2021 (aka Our 2020 Movie Preview Part II). Note: The list does not include a couple possible Oscar contenders like Nomadland and One Night in Miami that had very brief openings in 2020 and notched spots on our Best Movies of 2020 list.

40. Godzilla vs. Kong

Release date: May 21 (delayed from Nov. 20, 2020)
Directed by: Adam Wingard
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Alexander Skarsgård, Eiza González, Brian Tyree Henry
The scoop: Legendary's MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly crushed it — 2014's Godzilla and 2017's Kong: Skull Island were mixed bags, and 2019's Godzilla: King of Monsters was downright unsightly. But how can we not still be excited for this long-awaited monster mash, the first such big-screen battle since 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla?

39. Space Jam: A New Legacy

Release date: July 16
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green
The scoop: The ongoing debate over the greatest basketball player of all time is now expanding into the cinematic universe. James takes over the court to join Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Looney Tunes squad in this long-in-the-works follow-up to 1996’s Michael Jordan-starring Space Jam that counts Black Panther’s Ryan Coogler among its writers. Cheadle is a cool addition, but will Bill Murray also return?

38. Spiral

Release date: May 21 (delayed from May 15, 2020)
Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Max Minghella, Marisol Nichols, Chris Rock
The scoop: Can executive producer, story writer and star Rock follow in the footsteps of fellow funnyman Jordan Peele in excelling in horror after transitioning from comedy? It's a bold and inspired move by Lionsgate to entrust Rock with rebooting the studio’s most treasured, bloodiest horror franchise, a move reportedly inspired by the Saturday Night Live alum's love for the series. He'll play a detective investigating a series of grisly crimes.

37. Old

Release date: July 23
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Eliza Scanlen, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff
The scoop: Let’s face it, Shyamalan has been one of the most hit-and-miss filmmakers in the business since taking the world by storm with 1999’s The Sixth Sense. One one hand, there’s Split… on the other, there’s The Happening. Still, we’ll never not be excited for a Shyamalan joint, like this thus-far mysterious take on the graphic novel Sandcastle, about a group of strangers who find a dead body on the beach. Let’s just hope there’s no Lady in the Water.

36. Free Guy

Release date: May 21 (delayed from July 10, 2020)
Directed by: Shawn Levy
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Taika Waititi, Lil Rel Howery
The scoop: This original actioner easily has one of the year's most clever premises: Reynolds's bank teller and nonplayer character (NPC) living inside a violent video game discovers that he might actually be the hero his over-the-top universe needs. Comer (Killing Eve), Waititi, Utkarsh Ambudkar and Howery round out a killer cast.

35. Halloween Kills

Release date: Oct. 15 (delayed from Oct. 16, 2020)
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Anthony Michael Hall, Judy Greer
The scoop: Many Michael Myers fans loved his return in 2018's Halloween, others were less than impressed. Still, the film's $159 million slaying was more than enough to continue this rebooted series in a sequel about which we know very little at this point. What we do know: Between the phenomenal Knives Out and the glorious return of Laurie Strode, Curtis is having a moment.

34. King Richard

Release date: Nov. 19 (delayed from Nov. 27, 2020)
Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Starring: Will Smith, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton
The scoop: Smith has been working nonstop the last couple years (Aladdin, Gemini Man, Spies in Disguise, Bad Boys for Life) — and one of those was a double role. So it's only appropriate that he plays Richard Williams, the man who helped push daughters Venus and Serena to tennis superstardom. Of course, one question lingers over this project: Why not just a movie about the Williams sisters themselves?

33. Raya and the Last Dragon

Release date: March 5 (delayed from Nov. 27, 2020)
Directed by: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada
Starring: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina
The scoop: One big-time change since the last time we hyped up Disney’s animated adventure about a warrior searching for the world’s last dragon: She’ll now be voiced by Star Wars alum Tran. That makes an exciting combo in a film that was already primed to continue the Hollywood takeover of Awkwafina (The Farewell, Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s Eight), with the rapper-actress voicing Sisu the dragon.

32. Bios

Release date: April 16
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Starring: Tom Hanks, Caleb Landry-Jones, Samira Wiley
The scoop: Expect the Castaway comparisons to abound with this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama that once again stars a very solitary Hanks. This time he’s I Am Legend-ing it with a dog, not a volleyball, as the last man on Earth. The pair do get some company when the ailing inventor builds a robot, played by Landry-Jones (Three Billboards, Get Out). No word yet, though, if this is an Anthony Daniels-Threepio inside-the-suit type of deal yet.

31. Cruella

Emma Stone in 'Cruella' (Disney)
Emma Stone in Cruella. (Photo: Disney)

Release date: May 28
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, Mark Strong
The scoop: With the deluge of films delayed in 2020, there are certain actors we can typically count on seeing every year who became noticeably absent. Stone’s only credit was a voice role in The Croods: A New Age. But the La La Land Oscar winner makes what should be a valiant comeback in Disney’s live-action 1970s-set spinoff that could redeem 101 Dalmatians villainess Cruella de Vil in the same vein as Maleficent and Wicked.

30. The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Release date: Feb. 26
Directed by: Lee Daniels
Starring: Andra Day, Trevante Rhodes, Garrett Hedlund, Natasha Lyonne
The scoop: Acclaimed soultress Day has a tall order in returning iconic singer Billie Holliday to the screen nearly 50 years after another icon, Diana Ross, portrayed her in 1972’s Lady Sings the Blues. But you have to expect big things from Daniels, who directs his first feature since 2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler. The film’s late-February release date hints at Paramount’s high hopes for its awards chances, with 2021 Oscars eligibility extending two months.

29. Respect

Release date: Aug. 13 (delayed from July 10, 2020)
Directed by: Liesel Tommy
Starring: Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, Audra McDonald, Mary J. Blige
The scoop:Hudson may still be dealing with PTSD from her nightmare-fueling Cats (though she does own Cats' best moment, booming out "Memories"), but the Oscar-winning Dreamgirls breakout will get a great opportunity for a make-good. She'll play late Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin in this late-summer biopic, so be prepared to put some respect back on her name.

28. Malcolm & Marie

Release date: Feb. 5
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Starring: John David Washington, Zendaya
The scoop: You had to expect some of Hollywood’s most creative minds would find a way to keep creating their art during the pandemic. That’s exactly what happened when writer-director Levinson teamed up with his Euphoria star Zendaya and the also-quickly-rising Tenet lead Washington for this black-and-white Netflix two-hander about a filmmaker and his girlfriend’s relationship put to the test one night after a film premiere.

27. The Beatles: Get Back

Release date: Aug. 27
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: The Beatles
The scoop: Beatles fans got an early Christmas present when Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson released a sneak peek at his highly anticipated documentary that features restored, never-before-seen footage of the legendary band during the recording sessions of their final album, Let It Be. We’re not quite ready to hail this one the next The Last Waltz, but given the filmmaker-musician combo, we’ve got a feeling this one won’t let us down.

26. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Release date: June 11 (delayed from July 10, 2020)
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Starring: Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd
The scoop: Producer Ivan Reitman didn't wait long to reboot the Ghostbusters franchise for a second time after Paul Feig's divisive 2016 all-female version. He kept this one in the family, passing the directing reins to son Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air), whose new spin features the Midwestern family of the late, great Dr. Egon Spengler (played by the late, great Harold Ramis) learning the tricks of his supernatural-battling trade.

25. Top Gun: Maverick

Release date: July 2 (delayed from June 26)
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Miles Teller, Glenn Powell, Jennifer Connelly
The scoop: Top Gun was a sensation when it was released in 1986, cementing a young Cruise's status as Hollywood's newest A-list star. Three decades later, Cruise has reinvented himself as a middle-aged action star who will happily push the boundaries of what actors can (or should) accomplish when it comes to stunt work, as proven by recent Mission: Impossible installments. That's all to say, expect Cruise to really fly (both literally and figuratively) when he returns to mentor a new class of Navy aviators in this highly anticipated sequel.

24. Mission: Impossible 7

Release date: Nov. 19
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Vanessa Kirby, Hayley Atwell, Rebecca Ferguson, Angela Bassett
The scoop: At the moment, the primary buzz around Ethan Hunt’s seventh adventure has been focused on the profanity-laced leaked audio from the England set that had Cruise verbally eviscerating crew members for not abiding by social distancing measures. That will soon blow over and we’ll be able to once again focus on what kind of death-defying stunts Cruise tried this time. (FYI plot details are currently unknown.)

23. The Last Duel

Release date: Oct. 15 (delayed from Dec. 25, 2020)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
The scoop: Damon and Affleck have written their first script together since 1997's Good Will Hunting and it's… a 14th century-set period piece about King Charles VI declaration that French knight Jean de Carrouges settle his dispute with his squire by way of fight 'til death? The Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener co-wrote with them, Scott directs, and the increasingly prestigious Driver costars, making this one an instant early awards contender.

22. Untitled Elvis Presley Project

Release date: Nov. 5
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks,
The scoop: Moulin Rouge razzle-dazzler Luhrmann hasn’t made a movie since 2013’s The Great Gatsby, though he did take up residence in the Boogie Down Bronx for Netflix’s The Get Down. Luhrmann returns to the big screen (we hope) in a big way with the first major Elvis Presley biopic of our time, starring Switched at Birth and The Carrie Diaries actor Butler as the legendary rocker. Better yet, Hanks returns to That Thing You Do! terrain as Presley’s manager Colonel Tom Parker.

21. F9

Release date: May 28 (delayed from May 22, 2020)
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Charlize Theron, Helen Mirren, Michelle Rodriguez
The scoop: The Fast & Furious franchise is almost as prolific as Star Wars: After 2018's spinoff Hobbs and Shaw, F9 will mark the fourth F&F entry in seven years. Lin returns to direct his fifth entry since 2006, while cast members new to the franchise include hip-hop sensation Cardi B and former wrestling/hip-hop sensation John Cena. Conspicuously absent: Both Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham).

20. In the Heights

Release date: June 18 (delayed from June 26, 2020)
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Anthony Ramos, Stephanie Beatriz, Corey Hawkins, Lin-Manuel Miranda
The scoop: Before Miranda struck gold with Hamilton, he was merely a 2008 Tony Award winner for the acclaimed (but not quite as lucrative) Broadway hit In the Heights, about a Manhattan bodega owner debating whether or not to return to the Dominican Republic. Judging from the film's vibrant and toe-tapping trailer (which includes updated references to the plight of Dreamers and DACA), we're in for a treat.

19. West Side Story

Release date: Dec. 10 (Delayed from Dec. 18, 2020)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, Corey Stoll, Rita Moreno
The scoop: It's a big year for New York City-set musicals. Six months after In the Heights we'll get a new take on the classic story of the Jets and Sharks, told through the lens of Spielberg — marking the directing great's very first musical. While newcomers Zegler and DeBose take on Maria and Anita, respectively, and legend Moreno returns, the release does now arrive with some baggage after Elgort faced claims this past summer that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl.

18. The Unbearable Massive Weight of Talent

Release date: March 19

Directed by: Tom Gormican
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Neil Patrick Harris, Tiffany Haddish
The scoop: This title may be the most intriguing original movie of 2021 based on title, premise and cast alone. Billed as “Nic Cage,” the fan favorite plays a cash-strapped heightened version of himself who agrees to make a paid appearance at a billionaire superfan’s birthday party — which is actually an elaborate CIA sting to bring down a drug kingpin. And then Cage gets cast in a Tarantino movie, or something like that? The plot description is confusing, but 110 percent alluring. Much like Cage himself.

17. Luca

Release date: June 18
Directed by: Enrico Casarosa
Starring: The cast has not yet been announced
The scoop: After this month’s gem Soul, we only have to wait another six months until another Pixar release. The animation powerhouse’s 24th feature film is the coming-of-age story of an Italian boy named Luca (we don’t believe it’s Luca Guadagnino) with a supernatural twist. If the first 23 releases were any indication, we’re predicting it will be any combination of beautiful, soulful, tearjerking, funny, inspiring and deeply emotional.

16. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: April 23 (delayed from March 20, 2020)
Directed by: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds, Cillian Murphy, Djimon Hounsou
The scoop: The action was quiet, but the reception was loud — very loud — to 2018's excellent and deeply original horror flick A Quiet Place, which scared up $188 million at the U.S. box office. Krasinski remains the writer-director for Part II, but the Abbott family will have to find those blind extraterrestrial baddies without him this time (rest in peace, Lee). Remember to eat your nachos before the movie starts.

15. The Suicide Squad

Release date: Aug. 6
Directed by: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, Jon Cena, Viola Davis, Sylvester Stallone, many, many more
The scoop: Let’s get this out of the way: Why call “a soft reboot and standalone sequel” to 2016’s Suicide SquadThe Suicide Squad”? Since when did just adding “The” become acceptable for sequels? Beyond that pet peeve, we are excited as hell for what Guardians of the Galaxy puppetmaster Gunn will bring to the DCEU, especially with a stacked cast and his promise that none of them are safe from being killed off.

14. Babylon

Release date: Dec. 24
Directed by: Damien Chazelle
Starring: Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Tobey Maguire, Li Jun Li
The scoop: La La Land and First Man director Chazelle will not reteam with Ryan Gosling for a third straight movie… he’ll just to “settle” for a cast toplined by Once Upon a Time in Hollywood co-stars Pitt and Robbie instead. The film is reportedly a period drama set in 1920s as the industry shifts from silent movies to “talkies.” So… expect some Oscar nominations.

13. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Release date: July 9
Directed by: Destin Daniel Crettton
Starring: Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh
The scoop: After delaying both of their 2020 releases, the MCU will bring us three entries in 2021 (four if you count the Sony collabo Spider-Man 3), with their anticipated first Asian-lead actioner flanking Black Widow and Eternals. Short Term 12 and Just Mercy director Cretton joins Eternals helmer Chloé Zhao in graduating from acclaimed indies to international superhero hits, while Liu has already become a social media favorite for sharing his excitement over the journey over playing Marvel’s “Master of Kung Fu.”

12. Last Night in Soho

Release date: April 23
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Starring: Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, Matt Smith, Diana Rigg
The scoop: Does Wright deserve to be mentioned in any conversation regarding our best creators of original films? After the triumph that was Baby Driver, and given his track record, we’d say so. Expectations are lofty, then, for his follow-up, which stars the red-hot Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) in what’s described as a psychological horror film about a fashion designer wannabe who somehow time travels to the 1960s to meet her industry idol (who may or not be played by Bond idol Rigg), but with dire consequences.

11. Candyman

Release date: Aug. 27 (delayed from June 12, 2020)
Directed by: Nia DaCosta
Starring: Yahya Mateen-Abdul II, Tony Todd, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo
The scoop: The 1992 slasher flick Candyman has always been an underrated horror gem, and this remake offers several reasons for fans to get excited. With the film directed and co-written by budding filmmaking force DaCosta, co-written and produced by Jordan Peele, who has reinvented himself as one our most influential, brilliant minds in horror — and returning original star Todd (with Mateen-Abdul taking the lead) — this should be delicious. A chilling animated teaser released by DaCosta only got us more excited this year.

10. Coming 2 America

Release date: March 5 (delayed frorm Dec. 18, 2020)
Directed by: Craig Brewer
Starring: Eddie Murphy, James Earl Jones, Wesley Snipes, Arsenio Hall, Tracy Morgan
The scoop: The Murphy comeback that he says not to call a comeback rolls on with this eagerly awaited return of Prince Akeem, hero of one of the funniest comedies to come out of the '80s. In the sequel, which reunites Murphy with his Dolemite director Brewer and co-star Snipes, Akeem once again comes to America after learning he has a long-lost son in the States.

9. Gucci

Release date: Nov. 24
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons
The scoop: Between The Last Duel and Gucci, Scott could have two Oscar contenders opening within six weeks. This one returns Lady Gaga to screens in her first part since the Oscar-nominated A Star is Born, playing Patrizia Reggiani, a woman who plotted to kill her husband, the grandson of legendary fashion designer Guccio Gucci. (Between this and All the Money and the World, Scott must have a thing for magnate grandkids.) Beyond Gaga and Driver, who plays the hubby, the cast could get even more illustrious, with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Jared Leto all rumored to be involved.

8. Black Widow

Release date: May 7 (delayed from May 1, 2020)
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, David Harbour, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz
The scoop: We're finally getting a Black Widow movie! Of course, it's after she's dead and all — or at least will be, since this film is set years before Endgame. But better late than never… This ScarJo send-off, which takes place in between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, tracks Natasha Romanoff as she returns to her homeland and reunites with her colorful family of sorts. Look for Pugh to continue her ascent to super-stardom as another Black Widow.

7. The Matrix 4

Release date: Dec. 24
Directed by: Lana Wachowski
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jada Pinkett Smith, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II
The scoop: The plot is currently unknown, but the expectations are sky high for this long awaited follow-up to The Matrix trilogy that bowled us over between 1999 and 2003. (Well, at least in 1999.) The original not only blew our minds but redefined action filmmaking, so it will especially exciting to see what Wachowski (who this time directs sans sister Lilly) will do with 20 years worth of advanced technology.

6. Spider-Man 3

Release date: Dec. 17
Directed by: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jamie Foxx, Benedict Cumberbatch
The scoop: 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse clearly had an effect on, well, the Spider-verse. It’s been officially announced that Foxx (Electro) and Alfred Molina (Doctor Octopus) will reprise their roles from previous, non-Tom Holland installments. And rumors (and subsequent casting jokes) have run rampant that this threequel may even be recruiting Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield back into action as alternate world Peter Parkers. Apparently anything can happen in the Spider-verse, and we’re not complaining.

5. The Many Saints of Newark

Release date: March 12
Directed by: Alan Taylor
Starring: Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll
The scoop: “You’re telling me I have to watch The Sopranos movie on TV,” Screen Slate cracked as news of Warner Bros.’ controversial streaming plan blew up social media earlier this month. It’s a great point: If viewers still don’t feel safe heading to movie theaters in 10 weeks, this should be one title that makes extra sense for HBO Max. The highly anticipated 1960s-set prequel follows the New Jersey gangland activities Christopher’s father Dickie Moltisanti (Nivola).

4. Eternals

Release date: Nov. 16
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington
The scoop: The cast to this fall superhero release is exciting on many levels: Jolie making her Marvel debut; GoT stars Madden and Harington reuniting; stars as diverse as Hayek, Gemma Chan, Barry Keoghan and Bryan Tyree Henry joining the fray. Then there’s Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick), who got severely jacked for his part. Director Zhao, meanwhile, could very well be an Oscar winner for her stunning Nomadland by the time this one releases. Either way, we're hoping for a good, funny Guardians of the Galaxy-esque ride.

3. Judas and the Black Messiah

Release date: Feb. 12
Directed by: Shaka King
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Martin Sheen, Dominique Fishback
The scoop: Had the eligibility dates for the 2021 Academy Awards not changed, this one surely would’ve gotten a 2020 release. At least judging from its spine-chilling trailer, it has Oscar written all over it. The King-directed drama reteams Get Out co-stars (and two of the most exciting young actors in the business) Kaluuya and Stanfield as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and FBI informant William O’Neal, respectively, in what promises to be a thrilling look at the efforts of J. Edgar Hoover (Sheen) to bring down the resistance.

2. Dune

Release date: Oct. 1 (delayed from Dec. 18, 2020)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac
The scoop: As much as we all love David Lynch, one of his biggest misfires was his underwhelming 1984 take on the Frank Herbert sci-fi classic, making the property perfect for a remake. And who better than Blade Runner 2049 visionary Villeneuve to lead the charge? Chalamet will get his Kyle MacLachlan on (there's something we never thought we'd type) as galaxy savior Paul Atreides. The first trailer looks beyond epic — and made to be watched on the big screen — which is why there are already rumors swirling that the release could again move to 2022 “as a traditional theatrical to preserve its franchise potential.”

1. No Time to Die

Release date: April 2 (delayed from April 10, 2020)
Directed by: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch
The scoop: You know there's a lot to be excited about in a Bond movie when you're fully invested halfway through the trailer — and that's before Malek shows up as the story's new big bad, Safin. This one will feel especially bittersweet given it marks the final go-round as 007 for 51-year-old actor Craig. Remember all that controversy over a "blond Bond"? He's been one of the very best we've had.

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