The Top 20 Films of 2021, Ranked
The 2020s are a strange decade for movies, to say the least. Hollywood’s attempt to reclaim the box office started at the end of March 2021, with Godzilla vs. Kong, and truly culminated in December’s release of Spider-Man: No Way Home. The world’s weariness with a global pandemic came to a head, and everybody’s favorite web-slinger broke some records. In the meantime, the landscape of movie releases has changed drastically. Warner Bros. came under fire early in the year for their decision to release major big screen films like GvK and Dune simultaneously on HBO Max, and all major studios have experimented with theatrical releases vs. streaming. Many of the films on this particular list were originally intended as 2020 releases; No Time to Die, Daniel Craig‘s final outing as James Bond, was one of the first major films to delay in the wake of Covid-19, and it finally saw its worldwide release a year and a half later, in September.
After not a single Marvel movie graced screens in 2020, 2021 has seen more additions to the Marvel Cinematic Universe than ever before, many of them as television series and miniseries. Most miniseries are available to rank on Flickchart, and WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier actually appear pretty high on the 2021 chart. Having miniseries in the Top 20 at the end of the year is a first for us; for the purposes of this article, though, we’ve chosen to leave them aside and focus on feature films. (But one of our bloggers wants to make sure you know how great one of these miniseries is, so stay tuned!) Have no fear, though, superhero fans: there’s definitely plenty for you on this list.
As always, these are not OUR picks for the best films of the year. The list is derived from the global aggregate rankings of ALL Flickchart users, and as such, it’s always in flux. Even this list is only accurate up until the time of its publication. Want to have a say in how this list looks down the road? Get ranking!
In the meantime, here are Flickchart’s current Top 20 feature films for the year 2021.
Directed by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Charise Castro Smith
Global rank #6330
Disney has been around for so long, it’s hard to think of anything they do as surprising. Yet surprise me they have, as Encanto comes along as one of the best films, if not the best, they’ve made since the 1990s. Anchored in a strong collection of musical theater tunes written by Lin Manuel-Miranda, the hottest musical item at the moment, Encanto celebrates Colombian culture by embracing a story focused on family and finding self-worth.
The script and design of the film are cleverly layered with repeating motifs, colors, and designs to bring home symbolism that intelligently informs the film’s central themes. The movie has no traditional villain, no Disney princesses, and a plot that largely stays centered in one location. Yet Encanto keeps you enthralled as its central protagonist, Mirabel, struggles to define herself in a family full of people blessed with superpowers called Gifts. The music is catchy as can be, but also deviously advances the story and builds the characters.
Even as we start with one understanding of the characters, the film slowly but surely unveils more about each of them and manages to sustain arcs and create unique designs for nearly ten different major characters. It’s an impressive ode to the dedication and work of Walt Disney Animation Studios. The film charms thoroughly and delivers an emotional conclusion worthy of the great bombastic endings in musical theater. – Connor Adamson
Directed by Adam Wingard
Global Rank: #6,633
This fourth installment in the modern incarnation of the ever-improbable, shouldn’t-work-but-does cinematic universe proves that other studios can do franchises at least as well as Marvel, provided they only add one character to their pantheon per film. This film continues the vibe of ecological dread and guilt that drives the series; the task is no longer to simply enjoy the spectacles of destruction (as in past kaiju films), but to relish the liberal frisson of “we humans deserve nothing less for our crimes.” The point of the first three films in the series (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters) was to make us feel small, to awe us with the magnitude of nature’s self-correcting powers, but in this chapter new complexities are introduced. The lesson here is that grand, benevolent gestures of rectification — even when we think we are helping — actually hurt our situation. The only possibilities of positive impact are small, incremental changes, or else just staying out of the way.
The casting of the human characters remains this series’ weak point, and the tone varies wildly from plucky kids’ adventure to popcorn disaster flick to Clancy-esque techno-thriller. But such small potatoes seem extra small in a film that keeps our focus on the big things. The film’s great achievement is walking the tightrope between sincere and goofy, avoiding outright cheese without descending into maudlin lectures and bloody corpses. It’s a balance that I didn’t think Hollywood was capable of striking anymore, but given the right material even $155 million (the lowest price tag in the Monsterverse) is enough to tell a thrilling, relatable story about an ape and a lizard punching each other in the face. – Douglas Van Hollen
Directed by Bo Burnham
Global Rank: #6,302
“Hi, welcome to… whatever this is.” Opening to an empty room, something just about everyone can relate to being now on year two of the pandemic, we soon see Bo Burnham, disheveled, bearded, and center of a now-unorganized room filled with recording equipment with a strange Ghostbusters-esque headpiece, leading us to believe that we’re not in for the silly and clean shaven Bo we’re used to. However, from the get-go his clever lyrics and headpiece (a headlamp that lights up at the precise moment he himself shines on a disco ball) is the beginning of a sobering, thoughtful, and, yes, hilarious autobiographical “comedy special”/documentary that he created 100% independently during the first year of the pandemic. Burnham wrote the lyrics and music, performed and designed every single vocal, instrumentation, lighting, editing, and direction, all while letting the viewers in on his journey (still in progress) through depression and anxiety which led him to stop performing live years ago. Bo himself started accidentally becoming YouTube famous during the site’s infancy when he tried to send his brother a song he wrote and performed at the age of 16. Now 30, he looks back at the damage he caused by growing up on film, contemplates our addiction to technology and media in its various forms, and acknowledges that his success is still reliant on the same thing he believes in hurting us the most.
As we watch Burnham’s appearance become more disheveled, we watch his music and lyrics dance between straight comedy, societal and self reflection, Easter eggs, freeze frame jokes galore, and scenes of utter breakdown that leaves us wondering if our host is giving us the performance of a lifetime, or if we’re watching a human being fall apart in real time. Which, in turn, leaves us questioning ourselves: Should we be laughing at a time like this? How do we function when we witness oppression, racism, mass murder, exploitation, and the marketing of brands and self over health and protection for all? What do we stand for and what do we do when we ourselves are going through mental health journeys of our own? The mirror Burnham holds up reflects in our direction as well, and I have yet to speak to someone who hasn’t walked away from this special questioning some part of their own existence.
Regardless if one views this as a movie, a comedy special, or a documentary, its placement amongst the top 20 of the year is no small feat. The songs are brilliant, lyrically and instrumentally, and the talent oozes out of Burnham in Shakespearean amounts, creating one of the most relatable, hard-hitting, and funny moments of (pop) culture we saw this year. – Becky Chizmark
17. In the Heights
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Global Rank: #5,190
This year gave us two movie musicals about Latin American immigrants, both based on award-winning stage shows, one greatly inspired by the other. While both are good, I am delighted to see In the Heights has not lost its place on this list to Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, because as Flickchart’s resident musical theater nerd, it is my favorite of the two. Its eight-minute intro song is one of the best opening numbers of any musical out there, effortlessly introducing us to the characters, the locations, the dreams, and the themes of the story we’re about to hear, and all with stunning choreography and cinematography and vocal delivery. And then it just stays that good, weaving us through the stories of several residents of Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, their successes and failures, their loves and losses, and all with incredible musical numbers.
While the original score (by Lin-Manuel Miranda) and book (by Quiara Alegría Hudes) are both strong to begin with, director Jon M. Chu elevates it all by doing what so few recent movie musicals manage to do: blending cinema’s greatest strengths with theater’s greatest strengths. The two mesh together beautifully, giving a fantastical quality to the story. A romantic couple dances up the side of a building during their love song, a subway station is transformed into the places lodged in an elderly woman’s memories, fantasies of wealth are brought to life with animated images of what the characters wish they could buy. Chu doesn’t try to hide or downplay the heightened reality of characters bursting into song; instead, he works with it and takes us all on the journey together. – Hannah Keefer
Directed by Edgar Wright
Global Rank: #5,132
It was only ever a matter of time before Edgar Wright took his first true crack at horror. The fondness for the genre was evident throughout many of his films, most notably in the zombie satire Shaun of the Dead and eerie sequences in Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. If you’ve ever read an interview or listened to a podcast featuring Wright, his depth of knowledge and appreciation for scares is unmistakable. Perhaps what’s most exciting about Last Night in Soho is that, while filled with homages and references, the Thomasin McKenzie-led horror-mystery is an original concept – a refreshing move in a genre rampant with remakes, reboots, and sequels. Soho hearkens back to a lively neighborhood in 1960s London, where lavish shindigs were all the rage. But McKenzie’s Eloise quickly learns that beneath the glitz and glamour of the era, there existed a dark underbelly in the party district.
Wright’s panache for unique storytelling through smash cuts, immersive soundscapes, and creative visuals takes center stage as one would hope. As Eloise travels back in time, she encounters Anya Taylor-Joy’s Sandie, and the two embark on dazzling adventures. Many of the sequences leave you wondering exactly how the crew managed to pull off certain shots and movements, the choreography and intrigue amplified by the young and supremely talented up-and-coming duo. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to be scared when everything, from the costumes to the colorful filters, is so stunningly pretty. But in the end, Wright does indeed achieve his goal of creating tension and unease. It’s difficult not to become attached to Eloise’s plight and fear for her. Soho is a celebration of people you love to root for, both on and off screen, and luckily the execution might just be good enough to earn nominations for some technical awards. After that, it will be fun to see what Wright comes up with next. – Kyle Larkin
Directed by Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs & John Ripa
Global Rank: #4,729
Disney’s animation division has been achieving at or near the levels of its Pixar subsidiary for about the past ten years, and Raya and the Last Dragon continued that trend in 2021. What the film doesn’t have in terms of thematic originality, it more than makes up in crispness of visuals and dynamism of world building. This grouping of imaginary kingdoms in the shape of a dragon, with names to match the spot on the dragon they can be found, is a glorious entry by the studio into the cultural history and iconography of East and Southeast Asia. The titular hero leads a ragtag team of plucky heroes in trying to reunite the kingdoms and possibly replenish this world with the dragons who disappeared long ago. The other titular hero is the last one remaining, and as voiced by Awkwafina, she’s a charming firecracker with not quite too much of a modern sensibility to her line readings. This is a film whose solid construction is its best asset, as it proceeds along familiar narrative lines that feel freshly invigorating when filtered through their Asian lens. It looks absolutely gorgeous, and you could pause any individual frame and just stare at it for hours. Flickcharters who have Disney+ may choose to do just that. – Derek Armstrong
14. Free Guy
Directed by Shawn Levy
Global Rank: #4,421
It seems the best video game movies are not the ones that are adaptations of video games, but the ones that take inspiration from video games to play with the rules of reality (as in action fare like Crank or Boss Level), or that create a whole new world that becomes a joy to spend time in (as in Wreck-It Ralph). Free Guy does both. Dropping the viewer into a free-world MMO on the verge of a massive update, we meet Blue Shirt Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a non-player character who is beginning to develop his own identity and longing for something more.
Reynolds is perfect in this kind of role, and Free Guy is no exception. The action is big, the humor is sharp, and it’s frankly amazing how much Reynolds and director Shawn Levy are able to get us to care about their unusual hero. Much as most video game adaptations fail to truly hook the viewer because they can’t replicate the immersive experience of the games they’re based on, Free Guy takes just the right amount of video game elements to craft a tale with big action, big laughs and just the right amount of heart, in a way you can only get from a truly entertaining popcorn film. – Nigel Druitt
Directed by Wes Anderson
Global Rank: #4,603
Ever since Wes Anderson made his debut in 1996 with Bottle Rocket, the singular director has been a model of consistency not only in the frequency of his output, but in the consistent praise he receives from critics and fans alike. But perhaps Anderson’s shiniest badge of honor is the collection of prominent actors lining up for second, third, and fourth helpings, or to land themselves a role in one of his quirky, inimitable adventures for the first time. With The French Dispatch, Anderson has perhaps gathered his biggest and most decorated ensemble yet (seriously, go scroll the cast list on IMDb; it’s never-ending). And what better way to shine a spotlight on your menagerie of talent than through a series of vignettes?
There seemed to be an extra fire behind this latest project dedicated to his passion for The New Yorker. Everything that makes Anderson who he is – from his signature eye for detail and symmetry to his wacky group of anachronistic characters – is dialed to 11. The sets are more intricate than ever, rife with striking imagery and elaborate moving pieces. The script is dense and thorough, covering expansive ground in a short span. There is so much happening at once that if you stop to take in the visuals, you’ll miss a line or three. Or if you pay extra attention to the dialogue, you might miss a beautiful set piece. It is a feast for the eyes and ears that begs for multiple viewings. A wonderful love story about a special type of journalism that deserves every second of its showcasing. Twenty-seven years after Anderson’s debut, it’s overtly evident the auteur is still on top of his game. – Kyle Larkin
12. The Green Knight
Directed by David Lowery
Global Rank: #4,134
It’s a strange thing for a literary adaptation to be so different from and yet so faithful to it’s source. Reading one of the translations of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a very different thing from watching the A24 movie from David Lowery. But as a fan of the Arthurian cycle — that pre-cinematic universe of larger-than-life heroes and their endless, contradictory adventures — I think Lowery’s movie embodies the spirit and meaning of that world better than any attempt from Boorman’s Excalibur to Ritchie’s King Arthur. This is a world of saints and miracles, of monstrosities and mysteries, of woods and bandits and beasts neither animal nor human. Gawain and the rest of the king’s knights are Christian crusaders in wild, pagan Britain, and their highest calling is to die well or live trying. Young, untested Gawain (Dev Patel) answers the call, but uncertainly, and the mists and visions that beset him force him to confirm his choice again and again as its full meaning dawns.
The Green Knight channels not just medieval morality tales, but one of the greatest cinematic passion plays as well: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Gawain’s final challenge, like Jesus’s in the latter movie, is to see the road not traveled and to seize or reject its possibilities. Here Lowery provides a feast of medieval guts and glory as his carefully-picked cast tells a nearly-silent alternative story (alternate tellings are a theme in the film) before Gawain makes his final choice. Deeply researched, funny, and confidently executed behind and in front of the camera, The Green Knight is one of the best of the year and a new touchstone in one of fiction’s oldest sagas. – David Conrad
Directed by Zack Snyder
Global Rank: #4,198
I never thought there would come a day when I would prefer a Zack Snyder superhero movie to a Joss Whedon superhero movie, but here we are. The Snyder Cut tells the same basic story as the version we got in theaters four years ago, yet it is essentially a different film, and superior in nearly every way. It looks better. It sounds better. The performances are better, and the characters and relationships are far more interesting, including the villains. Maybe it benefits too much in comparison, but it is undoubtedly a fascinating production — fascinating that it was produced at all. My only major qualm was that it has such a great, natural end point, but then continues for another 20 minutes, starting several new stories and teasing films that will never be and never need be. Before that, though, this is a solid three-and-a-half hours of dark, mythic, rousing, epic storytelling, and true vindication for Snyder, his team, and his fans. – Tom Kapr
Directed by Ilya Naishuller
Global Rank: #4,048
Twenty years ago, when I was watching Mr. Show with Bob and David, if you had pointed at the screen and said, “Twenty years from now, that guy’s gonna be kicking ass in a John Wick-style action movie,” I probably would have said, “What’s John Wick? Who are you? How did you get in my house?” Seriously though, it was weird to learn Bob Odenkirk would be starring in a movie like this, yet he is perfect in the role, anchoring a progressively ridiculous plot with his everyman world-weariness. Not that he’s an everyman, exactly, as we learn during a scene on a bus that might be the best fight scene in a year that also includes a James Bond movie, a Matrix sequel, and a plethora of slick superhero flicks. – Tom Kapr
Directed by Michael Rianda & Jeff Rowe
Global Rank: #3,982
Many words could be written about everything The Mitchells vs. the Machines gets exactly right. The visuals rival the eye candy of Sony Animation’s previous effort, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. The commentary on our society’s technology dependence is on point. The action is as sharp and fast as the gags. Yet none of this matters if we’re not on board with our heroes and ready to root for the “Worst Family Ever.” And it’s here where the movie really shines.
As the father of a daughter the same age as our movie’s heroine, I identify strongly with both free-spirited Katie Mitchell and her beleaguered dad, Rick. Their connection — the healing of a strained relationship between a father and a daughter who love each other deeply, but struggle to understand each other — is at the very heart of the film. It’s this truly moving heart that has brought me back to the movie three times already, perfect in its encapsulation of the age-old (and very true) adage that family is everything.
That, and Monchi, the family dog (pig? loaf of bread?), who is undoubtedly one of the most endearing side characters an animated film has seen in years. – Nigel Druitt
Directed by Enrico Casarosa
Global Rank: #3,766
Though Luca will not likely be remembered as a highlight of the Pixar catalog, that is partially a shame as it is one of their most quietly satisfying and fundamental works. Centered around a simple coming-of-age story for a fish person on the Italian coast, the film strongly evokes the feeling of the best summer films. Carefree and yet transformative, summers are a time of growth and change for children as they learn maturity, pain, and love. Luca has all of that spades as the title character wrestles with finding a sense of self-worth and being accepted as a unique person by his elders. It depicts a strong male bond in a satisfying depthful manner that is at times neglected in the stories we tell. Many have seen it as a metaphor for a variety of issues, which is a tribute to the universality that resonates within the story. Pixar’s animation continues to dazzle with its renditions of Italian landscapes. Luca is a beautiful, nostalgic work that I hope will live on to be appreciated later as an unheralded gem, and Flickcharters may be leading the way by putting it in the top 10 for the year. – Connor Adamson
7. Black Widow
Directed by Cate Shortland
Global Rank: #3,266
Maybe the standalone came too late. Maybe you’re just not interested in this particular spinoff or character. But if you happen to be one of the countless many who are all in on the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow feels like a case of “better late than never.” If you’ve followed the interconnected journey of the Avengers from the beginning, then you’ve watched Scarlett Johansson flourish as Natasha Romanoff since the third movie in the franchise, Iron Man 2. Even without superpowers, Romanoff established herself as a necessary core member of the original six Avengers. By the time her journey came to an end, her accomplishments were as heady as any, and her integral presence was sorely missed. However, there was a story still begging to be told. No one truly knew Romanoff, as the mystery of her painful past remained.
Like some of the more exciting MCU installments, Black Widow delves into the seedy underground world of covert operations. Spy vs. spy. Trained assassin vs. trained assassin. Except now, we get a proper glimpse into Romanoff’s familial history. Where the movie shines brightest are the scenes with her unorthodox family, and luckily, there are plenty of them. With a different cast, there was a looming potential for it all to land flat. But as usual, the casting choices were spot on. David Harbour and Rachel Weisz, as the parents, are truly excellent, and casting Florence Pugh as Yelena, Romanoff’s sister, was perfection. Not only are their quirky family dynamics both exciting and exhilarating, they give Kevin Feige and Co. the opportunity to delicately pass on the Black Widow torch, opening a bright window for future installments. The chemistry between the four of them was worth the price of admission alone, teaming together skillfully and hilariously to give Romanoff the hearty send-off she deserved. – Kyle Larkin
Directed by Shaka King
Global Rank: #3,187
Some men would do anything to benefit their communities. Some men would do anything to benefit themselves. Judas and the Black Messiah is a film about two such men.
A dramatization of the real-life events surrounding the betrayal and assassination of Fred Hampton, this film allows viewers to see the story from both sides. Director Shaka King excels in allowing you inside the minds of both men, showing us that there are always choices to be made, but sometimes there aren’t any good ones. This film succeeded for me where a lot of films based on true stories fail: it encouraged me to educate myself on the history of the inspiring events. Like all good films should, Judas and the Black Messiah left me stained, and that’s the highest compliment I can give a film. – De Smith
Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga
Global Rank: #3,032
It had to end this way. The Craig era, more than any other era in the 007 franchise, committed to telling the life story — not just the adventures — of a particular man named James Bond. It succeeded so well that to move on from Craig required moving on from Bond himself (at least for now); to do otherwise would render his journey moot. Over the course of 5 movies and 15 years we saw Craig’s Bond grow from a prickly rookie agent to a world-weary yet oddly-sentimental hero. And this version of Ian Fleming’s playboy spy was a hero not only because he outwitted and outfought and outdressed the bad guys, but because he was equally determined to better himself along the way. This Bond, who confronted childhood traumas and took the time to mourn his fallen mentors, friends, and lovers, felt by the end like a man who had been to therapy and really gotten something out of it. Craig’s stated hope is that the character “has changed while I’ve been a part of him,” and after No Time to Die it is all but impossible not to concede the point.
Craig’s send-off is not without problems. Rami Malek’s weirdly ageless, stateless villain never really comes into focus, and the perfect genetic weapon he commands is a scientific stretch even for a franchise that once saw Bond rocket into a laser battle in space. Farewells to recurring characters from the Craigverse distract from more interesting new ones like the spies played by Ana de Armas and Lashana Lynch. The best Bond movies usually lean in to the cheese factor or steer clear of it, and it’s difficult to tell whether this one knows when it’s swerving lanes.
There are always nitpicks when you’re talking Bond, but those aside, No Time to Die makes some expert decisions. The cold open is as ambitious and beautifully-choreographed as any before. The location of Bond’s last battle — islands between Japan and Russia that have been disputed since the end of World War II — is, impressively, a place Bond has never been before, and it serves as an homage to the character’s Cold War origins. And the fan service that’s the currency of modern franchises pulls so deep from the well that you’ve got to respect the commitment; did anyone have the Dr. No dots on their bingo card?
As long as there’s popular interest in this character and his 70-year history, James Bond will always be back, but after Craig he’ll be different. After the blow-it-all-up mentality of No Time to Die, the meaning of “Bond movie” just might be different too. – David Conrad
Directed by James Gunn
Global Rank: #2,150
James Gunn has been through the professional wringer the past few years, getting fired from the third Guardians of the Galaxy due to controversial resurfaced tweets, bouncing over to the DCEU to take another pass at Suicide Squad, and then ultimately getting rehired by Marvel for the same movie from which he was originally fired. He’s emerged with his vision fully intact. The Suicide Squad is a joyous symphony of mayhem, replete with ultraviolence, hilarious quips, great visual gags and a delightful air of lunacy. It’s not a trailblazer in any sense, as forbears like the Deadpool movies paved the way for its existence. But Gunn is a master at forging these things in the fires of his own personal creativity, and the end product sprints along on its own contagious momentum. Margot Robbie’s third appearance as Harley Quinn continues to confirm how fortunate we are not to have given up on her after David Ayer’s 2016 version of Suicide Squad, and she’s joined by Idris Elba as Bloodsport to create an invaluable 1-2 punch among our DC villains sent into impossible situations to help reduce their prison sentences. As he did with Rocket Raccoon in Guardians, Gunn also breathes wonderful comedic life into two CG creations: King Shark, voiced by Sylvester Stallone, and the bizarre Weasel, who was apparently inspired by Bloom County’s Bill the Cat. Don’t get too attached to anybody, because anything might happen in The Suicide Squad, which is to its infinite benefit. Get attached to the filmmaking, though, as we’ve got another Gunn Guardians movie ahead of us, which would be lucky to end up with a fraction of this film’s anarchic charm. – Derek Armstrong
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Global Rank: #2,118
Shang-Chi is yet another origin story for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, complete with the requisite hero’s journey and struggle with daddy issues. Nonetheless, it’s a solid one, and welcome for bringing more representation to the world’s current genre obsession. The action is top-notch (personally, I was grinning like an idiot during the first major fight sequence on the bus), with a wuxia flavor that feels new and fresh within the confines of the MCU. The excellent visual effects bring an otherworldly quality that feels grounded when it needs to, even when things get really bizarre in the film’s finale. There’s a stronger villain here than in many of the solo MCU flicks, and Simu Liu‘s titular hero is likable and relatable. While this might not be quite as strong an entry as, say, Black Panther, it is equally as welcome for pushing the boundaries and bringing more inclusiveness to cinema’s biggest franchise. – Nigel Druitt
Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Global Rank: #1,106
To adapt the unadaptable. Ever since Frank Herbert’s renowned science fiction novel series debuted in 1965, many have tried and failed to bring it to the big screen. Alejandro Jodorowsky abandoned the troublesome undertaking in the ’70s. David Lynch‘s attempt in 1984 has a dedicated fan base, but where it succeeded visually, it failed to cover the expansive story in just 137 minutes. The 2000 Sci Fi Channel miniseries experienced the exact opposite issue, delivering the story Herbert’s readers rightfully desired, but failing to overcome a lackluster budget. But when it was announced that acclaimed Canadian director Denis Villeneuve would helm the newest effort, there was a glimmer of hope among the sci-fi community. If anyone could do it, it was the man who brought the world a pair of cinematic sci-fi masterpieces in Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017).
As a fan of the series since childhood, Villeneuve knew as well as any reader what was required: expansive, delectable visuals, political intrigue, and meticulous respect for the source material. Looking back years from now, the fact that Villeneuve convinced Warner Bros. to adapt the book in two parts — when the first half would be mostly setup, and the genre itself was notorious for underperforming at the box office — will be considered a historic achievement akin to Peter Jackson‘s Lord of the Rings trilogy. With a perfect cast, a magnificent balance between natural scenery and exquisite CGI, a bone-rattling score, and prudent concern for which aspects of the deep tale would translate best to the big screen, Villeneuve proved triumphant once again. The wait for Part Two will be every bit as painful as it will be exciting. – Kyle Larkin
Directed by Jon Watts
Global Rank: #1,028
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has grown long in the tooth at this point, but it still finds ways to entertain, surprise, and remain fresh. Spider-Man is one of culture’s most famous superheroes, and this film is a celebration of Spider-Man’s entire cinematic legacy. With fun and riveting performances from Tom Holland, Willem Dafoe, and Alfred Molina, we see characters both old and new brought to life in a multiversal smash adventure.
Despite the large spectacle, the film manages to center itself in small human moments. Parts of the film feel rushed, but this is a fun, emotional journey with some big shakeups affecting the future of the MCU moving forward. The return of former villains such as Doc Ock and Green Goblin alongside a Spider-Man who has helped save the universe with the Avengers feels like the true realization of Spider-Man brought to screen. This one brings just about everything you want in a big-budget superhero blockbuster. We would like to think it would have the made the true believer, Stan Lee, proud. Excelsior! – Connor Adamson
These are 2021 films that have not (at least, not yet) made the Top 20 in our users’ rankings, but that our bloggers feel are well worth your time. Check ’em out.
Hannah: Tick, Tick…Boom!
When choosing my Blogger’s Pick, I knew it had to be another musical. This has been a GREAT year for musicals. In the end, I decided I had to go with Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom! It tells the story of Jonathan Larson (the composer of the musical Rent), played here by Andrew Garfield. We follow him struggling to find his voice as a writer, desperate to leave a legacy as his twenties wind down and he enters his thirties. What made this movie extra special this year was the fact that it is, first and foremost, a love letter to musical theater. Larson was a musical theater nerd, the film is directed by musical theater nerd Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the love for the art form shines through so visibly, from Larson’s passion to leave a mark of his own to the multiple Broadway legends gracing the screen in cameos or bit parts.
The movie came at an especially meaningful time as well. While some parts of the world were slowly easing back into a situation where live performances were possible, a whole lot of folks had not gotten to see live theater in a year and a half. TV and movies and music still got released, if a bit slower, but theater either came to a complete halt or transferred awkwardly to Zoom performances. A movie speaking to the beauty and importance of theater, honoring the legacy of this art form we missed so badly, was exactly what we needed.
(And, oh yeah, even though all this is what made it special, it’s also just a really great movie! Andrew Garfield is wonderful! The score is so much fun!)
When selecting this movie out of all the other good musicals this year, the deciding factor was iconic musical theater composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim passed away this November but is a central part of this film’s story and made his final acting appearance here as himself, with the film debuting just days before his death. Sondheim’s love of musical theater and enthusiasm and encouragement for new artists was legendary, and it’s a joy to see his legacy continue on for decades because he passed the torch to composers like Larson and Miranda. – Hannah Keefer
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Global Rank: #6,947
Eternals was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film I had no desire to see. The premise sounded boring, and the trailers did little to change that. Just a bunch of immortals fighting bad CGI monsters. Where’s the tension? Where’s the drama? And where were these people when Earth’s mightiest heroes were contending with Thanos? Of course, I still went to see it, because I’m an MCU junkie, and was surprised to find a complex morality tale centered around a cast of fully rounded characters, distinctly individual and lived in, with rich personal and interpersonal histories. It’s certainly not trying to be as fun as Shang-Chi or Spider-Man, and occasionally it tries too hard with its in-universe references, but despite its fourth-out-of-four ranking for the year this is easily the best of the post-Endgame Marvel movies for me. – Tom Kapr
Nigel: The Guilty
When they’re done right, I’m a sucker for movies that focus primarily on a single actor, confined to a limited location, in a stressful race against time brought on by harrowing circumstances. The Guilty is one of these films, and it brought to mind personal favorites like All is Lost and Buried. Here, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a troubled LAPD officer, working the 911 call center the night before he is due to appear in a court hearing regarding an incident he had on the beat months prior. When he receives a call from a woman who appears to have been abducted by her husband, leaving their children in jeopardy, his involvement in the case becomes personal, and by the end of the night he’ll emerge a changed man.
Gyllenhaal’s Southpaw director, Antoine Fuqua, elicits another great performance from his lead and keeps the pace taught throughout. A remake of the 2018 Danish film of the same name, with a screenplay from True Detective‘s Nic Pizzolatto, The Guilty is superior to the similarly-themed The Call from 2013, particularly in the way it manages to keep the “action” contained to the 911 desk yet maintains steadily mounting tension throughout. Highly recommended for thriller fans. – Nigel Druitt
More Babette’s Feast than John Wick, Pig is a lightly surreal but deeply thoughtful, empathetic rumination on grief. That it’s anchored by a deeply subdued, award-worthy performance by Nic Cage is part of its incredible magic, all part of a culinary-themed spell that subverts the very roots of revenge by slowly turning it inward.
Equally magical is the fact that this movie refuses to hold your hand, trusting you with just enough clues to guess about backstory, motivations, and history. This might sound dissatisfying, but the result is insanely refreshing; it also means that revealing any aspect of the journey is a disservice to anyone who has yet to see it, so anyone who has yet to tag along should take care not to learn more.
In the end, all you need to know is this: Pig takes every expectation you have and dashes it on the pavement. It is in no way the movie you expect, and instead tells a very specific, careful story about how we experience and process loss. It’s no coincidence that Cage’s character refuses to wash away the blood from the violence he sees: he wears his pain on the outside, and like him, we’re forced to bear eternal witness and just deal with it. – Nick Stewart
Eternals may be the best of the post-Endgame feature films, but far and away the best thing the Marvel Cinematic Universe has produced in the wake of the momentous climax of the Infinity Saga is this Disney+ miniseries centered around the Scarlet Witch and the Vision. The story unfolds in the varying styles of classic sitcoms from the past 60 years — a bizarre premise that only gets more bizarre as the mysteries of this reality start to unravel over the course of the series. Despite its idiosyncratic narrative style, it still feels of a piece with everything that has come before, while laying groundwork for the future in a level of media crossover Marvel had not previously attempted. It’s also a profound deconstruction of loss that manages to remain insanely fun. And Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany are front and center, giving career performances. Though this Top 20 has focused on feature films, WandaVision actually currently holds the #9 spot globally for the year, a testament to the quality of its production and storytelling. – Tom Kapr