The 10 Best Movies of 2021

Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, but mine is clearly the best.

2021 was a year of cautious rebound in the film world. It wasn’t at all normal, but several blockbusters that were put on pause during the early months of the pandemic finally made it to theaters, making it at least feel like there wasn’t a deadly disease still ravaging the globe. Not all of those blockbusters delivered, of course, but when you reflect on how few big movies came out in 2020, it was a nice change of pace.

Where 2021 felt less normal was in the prestige films–the end-of-year awards contenders that usually offer some pleasant surprises. Whether a delayed outcome of the early-pandemic shutdowns or simply due to a weak slate, most of the major frontrunners for major awards have been downright disappointing.

In fact, only three movies on this list of the best movies of 2021 were released in the late months of the year, and one of those is a Disney animated film.

As frustrating as this final month and a half has been (seriously, I watched at least 40 movies since Thanksgiving, and most of them were middling at best), the lack of prestige films opens the door for other great movies to fill the gaps. Without further ado, here are the best movies of 2021, according to me and my incredible opinions, a somewhat eclectic yet largely mainstream selection.

As a reminder, I almost always rate movies using three primary parameters: 1) Was it entertaining? 2) Would I recommend it to my friends? 3) Would I watch it again?

In the Heights

10. In the Heights

What it’s about: A shopkeeper with bigger dreams finally asks out the love of his dreams, just as she’s ready to move away from the neighborhood and presumably meet a dude with better earning potential. Bad timing.

Why it’s on the list: Energetic, fun, and fast-paced, this Lin-Manuel Miranda musical features a talented and good-looking cast doing what talented and good-looking casts tend to do: lighting up the screen.

Where to watch it: HBO Max

The Power of the Dog

9. The Power of the Dog

The plot: Set in the early 1900s, a man brings his new wife and gay son to live with him on his ranch. Unfortunately, his mean-spirited brother also lives there, making for awkward dinner conversation. 

Why it’s on the list: A slow-boil drama with one wicked performance and a quietly killer ending you might miss if you’re not paying close attention, The Power of the Dog isn’t for the impatient, but is a masterclass in filmmaking nonetheless.

Where to watch it: Netflix

Saint Maud

8. Saint Maud

The plot: A devout young woman begins to believe that God is speaking directly to her. Then again, she could just be batshit crazy.

Why it’s on the list: Morfyyd Clark gives a terrifying performance in this horror-thriller that feels all too real, and all too troubling. And that ending. Wow.

Where to watch it: Hulu/Paramount+

The Dry

7. The Dry

The plot: A city detective returns to his small hometown in the outback to investigate a murder-suicide that no one wants him to investigate, including, shockingly, the person(s) actually responsible for the crime.

Why it’s on the list: Juxtaposed against a desolate and desperate environment that is overshadowed only by a bleaker set of parched characters, The Dry is an immensely satisfying murder mystery that quickly grabs you and never lets go.

Where to watch it: Buy/Rent

The Suicide Squad

6. The Suicide Squad

The plot: A group of super-powered (or at least super-deranged) criminals, including a human-sized weasel, must save the world from a giant, evil starfish. Not to be confused with Suicide Squad.

Why it’s on the list: Full of dark, twisted humor and grotesque physical comedy, this James Gunn-directed comic book adaptation is easily the most enjoyable comic book movie of the year (sorry, Spider-Man).

Where to watch it: HBO Max

The Green Knight

5. The Green Knight

The plot: King Arthur’s nephew commits himself to a quest to find a supernatural knight, to offer his head in exchange for a foolish vow made the year prior. Unfortunately, he sort of sucks at quests.

Why it’s on the list: Divisive in that some people will find it numbingly dull, The Green Knight is the prettiest and most atmospheric movie of the year, complemented by a strangely riveting tale of a coward’s search for courage.

Where to watch it: Buy/Rent


4. Encanto

The plot: A regular teenage girl must discover why her family and house are losing their magical powers, the loss of which would mean they’d actually have to do work the old fashioned way.

Why it’s on the list: Featuring beautiful animation heightened by a heartwarming story and invigorating music, Encanto is an animated movie that will blow both children and adults away with its energy and charisma.

Where to watch it: Disney+



The plot: A high school girl must balance her future dreams with the reality of the present: helping her parents and brother, all of whom are deaf, catch fish.

Why it’s on the list: The easy winner for crowdpleaser of the year, CODA is funny, moving, and, thanks to its subject matter, unique and insightful. 

Where to watch it: Apple TV+

Red Rocket

2. Red Rocket

The plot: A former porn star moves back in with his estranged wife and mother-in-law, starts selling weed to make ends meet, and sets his eyes on a spunky 17-year-old donut clerk because he… really likes donuts. 

Why it’s on the list: Arguably the funniest movie of the year and most certainly the sleaziest (well, Titane aside), Red Rocket isn’t for everyone–but for the people it is for, fantastic acting, creative writing, and one of the most memorable protagonists in recent memory makes it a must-see. 

Where to watch it: Currently in theaters (as of Dec. 25, 2021)


1. Dune

The plot: After his family is betrayed after taking over production of cinnamon, the most important material in the universe, a young duke flees into the desert and attempts to evade capture, dehydration, and worms.

Why it’s on the list: Though it’s only half a movie, Dune: Part One is a visual and technical masterpiece that gets better with every viewing. Few would argue that director Denis Villeneuve (Arrival) is the perfect choice to bring Frank Herbert’s classic to life, and he does with the vision and scale that most filmmakers could never achieve.

Where to watch it: Buy/Rent

For a full list of the best and worst movies of 2021, go here.

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Movies, Top 10 Movie Lists