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The 50 Best Movies of 2021

The Film School Rejects team watched hundreds of movies in 2021 and enjoyed quite a few. These are the 50 best.
Best Movies of 2021
By  · Published on January 29th, 2022

This article is part of our 2021 RewindFollow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, we present our team’s ranked list of the 50 Best Movies of 2021.

Here is a fun (and somewhat daunting) fact to remember while you undoubtedly skip to the last page of this list of the 50 Best Movies of 2021 to inspect and scrutinize our Top Ten: in each of the previous two years (2019 and 2020), the film that ended up #1 on our list went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. We’re not saying that we had anything to do with those wins for Parasite and Nomadland. Those films were both great and didn’t need our help. But it is… notable.

As it is every year, the goal of this list is to celebrate the movies we, the gang behind Film School Rejects, saw and loved in the chaotic and difficult year that was 2021. Our sincere hope is that browsing this list will provide you with a dash of validation for your own favorites, a few new ones to keep on your watchlist, and a starting point for discussing the year in film.

As a group, the FSR team watched hundreds of films this past year and loved quite a few of them. When we began to discuss which ones might make this list, we had more than 125 solid candidates. And while it’s taken us some time to refine, we’re extremely excited to present you with the final list — The 50 Best Movies of 2021.

As a bonus, all of our picks are presented with where you can watch them (in the U.S.) as of the end of January 2022.

50. Old

Best Movies 2021: Old

As much as I understand why this is the case, I can’t help but be a little disheartened that for most, M. Night Shyamalan is associated with twists and little else. Again, I get it — from The Sixth Sense to The Village to The Visit, the director has pulled off some major twists. But what his latest, Old, reminds us is that Shyamalan’s one-of-a-kind style goes far beyond third act revelations.

Old tells us what it is up front: this is a beach, and it makes you old. The terror that unfolds doesn’t come out of nowhere, although it is quite shocking. Instead, we see what we know is inevitably coming. People age. They age faster than they would otherwise, but we essentially recognize this process. Memory goes, the body weakens, and ailments overwhelm. In a matter of seconds, life can change or be lost. There’s a true sense of horror here, even when it comes with stilted dialogue and improbable character choices. And while, sure, the film can be over the top, it has unmatched haunting power and further cements Shyamalan as one of the most distinct and original filmmakers working today. (Anna Swanson)

Where to find it: Currently available on VOD.

49. Candyman

Best Movies 2021: Candyman

As this country (de)evolves, the original Candyman calls for reinvention. Remake number one is here, but let’s keep them coming. Daniel Robitaille has lots of rage to offer, and Nia DaCosta shows other filmmakers what they can do with that ghostly, lingering heat. Her version grabs Bernard Rose’s skeleton, which in turn was assembled from a Clive Barker short story, and assembles it around gentrification and police brutality.

The result is a choking scream, gargling on tones that swing from the comedic to the horrific. DaCosta never lets her audience settle, and at times you wonder if you’re in the right movie, but when the climax hits, there’s no doubt you were headed anywhere else. Her Candyman is a gorgeously haunting work, manifested through John Guleserian’s meticulously considered lens, causing many frames to linger long after their passing. (Brad Gullickson)

Where to find it: Currently available on VOD.

48. Raya and the Last Dragon

Best Movies 2021: Raya And The Last Dragon

When Raya and the Last Dragon starts, you can barely recognize the film as a Disney adventure. The world has soured, an apocalypse has settled. In turning on themselves, humanity has left a hellscape for their backyard. And this wasteland is so hardcore that even the babies have turned marauder. Watch your pockets, friends. Only a daughter can rebirth the world by finding a long-lost dragon.

But it turns out, discovering such a creature is not that difficult – it takes about fifteen/twenty minutes – and when she arrives, Raya and the Last Dragon becomes the goofy family film you were initially expecting. Awkwafina’s appearance throws your head for a loop, but eventually, you submit. The joy her performance and character inject into the cartoon apocalypse is essential, and by the time we reach the finish, these competing tones blend into something inseparable and unique. Oh, and it is so damn pretty. Dragons dancing on the raindrops? No better-animated visual in 2021. (Brad Gullickson)

Where to find it: Currently available to stream on Disney+.

47. Lamb

Best Movies 2021: Lamb

One of many debut features to grace this list, Valdimar Jóhannsson’s Lamb is a creature feature for folks who get giddy at the thought of mountain valleys, wool sweaters, and insulated rain boots. A couple (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) living in the shadow of the child’s death are blessed with a miracle. While helping their sheep give birth on their remote Icelandic farm, the couple discovers that one of their lambs is not just a lamb. She’s a lamb-human hybrid. They immediately steal the child (what else to call her?) away and begin to treat her as their own, naming her Ada.

With unmentionable questions about Ada’s origins swirling in the back of our minds, we watch as the couple contends with the feasibility of their dream. And what to make of that un-seen presence? Huffing hot, intimidating breaths just off-screen? Apprehended as a b-movie made specifically for folks with an appreciation for pastoral nightmares (and daydreams alike), Lamb is absurd, painful, and just plain adorable in all the right places. (Meg Shields)

Where to find it: Currently available on VOD.

46. Werewolves Within

Best Movies 2021: Sam Richardson in Werewolves Within

At a certain point, we’re going to have the face the truth — Sam Richardson is a star. Few performers had as wide-ranging and successful a year as Mr. Richardson, from his small-screen work on Ted Lasso, Q-Force, and I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson to being the most fun part of The Tomorrow War alongside Chris Pratt.

But by leaps and bounds, the best Sam Richardson content of 2021 was Werewolves Within, an adaptation of a popular VR video game about a small woodsy town that experiences a series of mysterious attacks that are very… werewolfy. Richardson’s effervescent charm is flanked by the likes of Milana Vayntrub, Harvey Guillén, Michaela Watkins, and other recognizable faces. It’s a fun, snowy ride that looks like it was a lot of fun to make, a breakthrough directorial effort that will keep our eyes glued to whatever Josh Ruben makes next. (Neil Miller)

Where to find it: Currently available on VOD.

45. The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad

Are you telling me there was a better ending than the one James Gunn gave us in The Suicide Squad? No way. Spoilers, friends: Harley Quinn propels herself through Starro’s eye as millions of rats swim in behind her. As she marvels at their ravenous appetites, down below, Bloodsport confronts his phobic reaction to vermin stampeding over him, and Ratcatcher II recalls her dead father’s words, “Rats are the lowliest and most despised of all creatures, my love. If they have a purpose, so do we.” These villains should be proud of toppling the kaiju, but as its brainwashed minions inform them, Starro was doing just fine in outer space until American astronauts kidnapped and tortured them for a diplomatic power play.

The Suicide Squad gives us a story without heroes but attempts to show the humanity behind every villain. Is there forgiveness inside? Probably not. But James Gunn denies your hunger to otherize, revealing the people inside the monsters. (Brad Gullickson)

Where to find it: Currently available to stream on HBO Max.

44. Luca


It may be less ambitious in scope than Pixar’s recent, more existentially minded output, but Luca is far from a minor offering from the animation giant. Enrico Casarosa’s feature debut swaps the abstract setting of the psyche for the Italian Riviera, which is rendered here in such a gorgeous, sensorially rich style that the region’s tourism board may as well retire. It follows two boys hiding their true sea monster selves, Luca (Jacob Tremblay) and Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), who find glorious catharsis through each other and in exploring the sumptuous pleasures of the human world.

Luca isn’t just exquisite escapism, though; there is real heart at its center. Amidst the Vespa fantasies and dreamy pasta-eating contests, writers Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones weave a tender story about the life-affirming power of friendship, the freedom that comes from stepping beyond your comfort zone, and the futility in waiting for outside acceptance. It might not hinge itself on the big philosophical questions the way its Pixar predecessors do, but Luca, with its gentle epiphany about what it means to live versus merely existing, is no less profound. (Farah Cheded)

Where to find it: Currently streaming on Disney+.

43. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Summer Of Soul

A superb documentary that marks a meticulous and inspiring directorial debut from Questlove. One feels the filmmakers’ deep respect and understanding of music in this work. That reverence comes through in form. So often, these kinds of documentaries get watered down by a sea of interviews and unnecessary context. In the film, we get that context, a sense of history, and analysis of the festival’s cultural impact, in the form of reflections and explanations from attendees and performers at the festival.

Yet when they do appear, they supplement the archival footage and allow us to see and appreciate it in ways that enrich the viewing experience. Summer of Soul gives the archival material — previously unseen footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival — the time and space it deserves. We spend time with the performers and get as close to the energy, excitement, and significance of the festival as one can through film. (Will DiGravio)

Where to find it: Currently streaming on Hulu.

42. All Light, Everywhere

All Light Everywhere

A probing documentary that operates within the traditions of the essay film, and also the more contemporary video essay, in the ways it invites the viewer to see and reflect on familiar images in new ways. The film brings us face-to-face with the implications of living in a society awash in recording devices: security cameras, police body cameras, aerial cameras, and all other forms of audiovisual surveillance. The film’s tone makes it endlessly watchable and impactful: the filmmakers know when to be funny, outraged, and both at once.

The connection between surveillance footage and violence is a somewhat obvious one in modern life. For example, the film shows how police bodycam footage can be used to present false narratives, and lead to further discrimination and violence against Black people.

To accompany the analysis of the camera’s function in everyday life, the film tells the history of the device itself. Many viewers may be surprised to learn of the parallels between the development of automatic weapons and the motion picture camera. The history is as rich as it is revealing and leaves one not only with a horrific depiction of the relationship between violence and the moving image but the understanding that the contemporary relationship between the two was, perhaps, inevitable. And it’s a terrifying thought. (Will DiGravio)

Where to find it: Currently streaming on Hulu.

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

Shang Chi

Hey America, check out Tony Leung. You’re welcome. Thanks, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. If you had another mission, that’s cool, but your work here is done. Ah, okay, the rest of the movie is pretty darn rad too. Marvel Studios travels into Wushu. And the result is a joyous action adventure featuring the best hand-to-hand combat the MCU has so far produced. Simu Liu is a gift for the franchise as well, propelling supernatural chemistry amongst the Avengers, sparking uncontrollable curiosity in the audience. How are Shang-Chi and Thor going to party together? What’s his take on Rocket Racoon? Anyone plus Ant-Man is always a delight. The possibilities and combinations are endless, and Shang-Chi leaves you giddy for the next mega-event collision. (Brad Gullickson)

Where to find it: Currently streaming on Disney+.

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