20 Best Movies of 2021 and Where to Watch Them

The year is officially coming to a close. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic made 2020 a strange year for movie releases. Many studios delayed their major titles set for the following year and many productions stopped in their tracks. However, the year 2021 features many phenomenal independent movies, although several of the tentpole flicks didn’t land quite how one would expect. Here are the best 20 movies of 2021 and where to watch them.

2021 is an odd year for movies

Top Films of 2021 'Flee,' 'The Worst Person in the World,' 'Red Rocket,' 'Titane,' 'Drive My Car,' 'The Green Knight' in collage
L-R: ‘Flee,’ ‘The Worst Person in the World,’ ‘Red Rocket,’ ‘Titane,’ ‘Drive My Car,’ ‘The Green Knight’ | Neon, Neon, A24, Neon, Janus Films, A24

The year 2021 was a struggle for many, including film productions. Many cast and crews picked up where they left off after having to take a long pause. As a result, some of these movies aren’t getting a release date until 2022 or 2023.

Additionally, many 2021 movies took inspiration from the coronavirus pandemic. It greatly influenced many filmmakers and actors to inject their work with the real-life events and feelings resulting from the pandemic.

20. ‘In the Heights’

‘In the Heights’ Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Corey Hawkins as Benny, and Anthony Ramos as Usnavi walking in the street with swimwear
L-R: Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny, Corey Hawkins as Benny, and Anthony Ramos as Usnavi | Macall Polay/Warner Bros.

In a year full of musicals, In the Heights is the best of the bunch. Casting issues aside, it’s a joyous and celebratory piece of filmmaking. In the Heights packs a punch with killer songs, stellar choreography, and a story filled with heart.

In the Heights is available to stream on HBO Max. It’s also available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

19. ‘Procession’

'Procession' Joe Eldred, Ed Gavagan, Michael Sandridge, Tom Viviano, Dan Laurine and Mike Foreman standing in a line inside of a church
L-R: Joe Eldred, Ed Gavagan, Michael Sandridge, Tom Viviano, Dan Laurine and Mike Foreman | Netflix

Procession is a deeply impactful documentary about a group of survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Each individual makes a short film to help deal with their trauma, exploring it in a way that’s raw, moving, and non-exploitative. Procession is one of the best documentaries of the year.

Procession is available to stream on Netflix.

18. ‘Nine Days’

'Nine Day's David Rysdahl as Mike and Winston Duke as Will sitting on the beach comforting Mike
L-R: David Rysdahl as Mike and Winston Duke as Will | Sony Pictures Classics

Nine Days follows a man judging a group of human souls for the opportunity to be born. Edson Oda’s writing and direction are exceptional in this existential drama that’s equal parts emotional and captivating. Nine Days rightfully won a screenwriting award at Sundance.

Nine Days is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

17. ‘Dune’

'Dune' Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides holding up a blade
Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides | Warner Bros.

Dune proves that a successful feature adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel is possible. Denis Villeneuve delivered a breath-taking epic that feels truly otherworldly. Dune boasts an outstanding supporting cast and some of the most gorgeous cinematography of the year.

Dune is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

16. ‘Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’

'Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy' L-R_ Fusako Urabe as Moka Natsuko and Aoba Kawai as Nana Aya holding hands and looking at each other in front of a railing
L-R: Fusako Urabe as Moka Natsuko and Aoba Kawai as Nana Aya | Film Movement

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is one of two Ryûsuke Hamaguchi films released this year. This beautiful anthology follows three female characters exploring the themes of chance, love, and regret. It’s innately human and wonderfully acted. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is the lesser of the two Hamaguchi films this year, but it’s still a stellar piece of cinema.

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is exclusively available in select theaters and through virtual theater screenings via Film Movement.

15. ‘The Lost Daughter’

'The Lost Daughter' review Olivia Colman as Leda sitting down wearing sunglasses
Olivia Colman as Leda | Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix

The Lost Daughter is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature directorial debut. It explores a woman on holiday, who becomes increasingly haunted by her memories of early motherhood. The Lost Daughter is complex, stirring, and uncompromising. It’s truly singular how it depicts motherhood and memory.

The Lost Daughter is coming to limited theaters on Dec. 17 and will stream on Netflix starting Dec. 31.

14. ‘The Night House’

'The Night House' Rebecca Hall as Beth looking frightened with tears in her eyes
Rebecca Hall as Beth | Searchlight Pictures

The Night House is the scariest movie of 2021 without abandoning its dramatic core. It follows a grieving widow, who begins discovering her husband’s secrets. The Night House is consistently unnerving and atmospherically chilling. Rebecca Hall delivers a fantastic performance.

The Night House is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

13. ‘C’mon C’mon’

'C'mon C'mon' Woody Norman as Jesse and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny high-fiving at a restaurant counter
Woody Norman as Jesse and Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny | A24

C’mon C’mon is a beautiful examination of America’s future in a way that’s both sociological and touching. A radio journalist takes a cross-country journey with his nephew to show him another side of life. Joaquin Phoenix is impeccable and Woody Norman is a stand-out. It’s quiet and subtle, but no less impactful because of it.

C’mon C’mon is currently still playing in select theaters.

12. ‘The Beta Test’

'The Beta Test' Jim Cummings as Jordan looking shocked in a white collared shirt
Jim Cummings as Jordan | IFC Films

The Beta Test follows a scummy Hollywood agent after he receives an anonymous letter offering a sexual encounter. Jim Cummings is one of this generation’s most intriguing filmmakers. The Beta Test is thrilling, uncomfortable, funny, and captivating. There’s nothing else quite like it.

The Beta Test is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

11. ‘CODA’

'CODA' Emilia Jones as Ruby signing out of the window of a moving car
Emilia Jones as Ruby | Apple TV+

CODA explores the life of a teenager who is the only hearing person in her deaf family, who has dreams of pursuing music. Sian Heder’s film tugs hard on the heartstrings. It’s undoubtedly one of the most earnest movies of the year with phenomenal performances from Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, and Troy Kotsur.

CODA is available to stream on Apple TV.

10. ‘Petite Maman’

'Petite Maman' Joséphine Sanz as Nelly and Gabrielle Sanz as Marion putting their arm around each other while looking at their treehouse
Joséphine Sanz as Nelly and Gabrielle Sanz as Marion | Neon

Petite Maman is Céline Sciamma’s most personal film to date. The story is set around a young girl who meets another girl her age after losing her grandmother. It’s so delicately crafted and beautifully told. Petite Maman is a mother-daughter story that continues to show why Sciamma is such a cinematic force.

Petite Maman has no U.S. release date set yet.

9. ‘Shiva Baby’

'Shiva Baby' Rachel Sennott as Danielle holding a bagel
Rachel Sennott as Danielle | Utopia

Shiva Baby is by far the funniest movie of 2021. Emma Seligman’s feature directorial debut is set during a Jewish funeral service when a college student runs into her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott is hysterical in this claustrophobic, awkward comedy that thrives on every level. Shiva Baby is brilliant.

Shiva Baby is available to stream on HBO Max and Kanopy. It’s also available to rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

8. ‘Pig’

'Pig' Nicolas Cage as Rob sitting next to his pig and eating
Nicolas Cage as Rob | Neon

Pig features Nicolas Cage’s best performance to date as a truffle hunter who must track down the people who stole his beloved foraging pig. It’s not at all what you’re expecting. Pig is a profoundly emotional journey of loss and trauma.

Pig is currently streaming Hulu. It’s also available to rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

7. ‘Licorice Pizza’

'Licorice Pizza' Alana Haim as Alana holding her hand up under a neon sign
Alana Haim as Alana | Melinda Sue Gordon/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

Licorice Pizza is Paul Thomas Anderson’s 9th feature film. It’s a hangout movie that explores first love in the 1970s San Fernando Valley. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman have undeniable chemistry that radiates off the screen. Despite all the controversy surrounding it, Anderson crafted an undeniably charming film.

Licorice Pizza is currently in limited theaters in Los Angeles and New York with a plan to expand nationwide on Dec. 25.

6. ‘The Green Knight’

'The Green Knight' Dev Patel as Gawain holding up an axe shouting at the sky
Dev Patel as Gawain | A24

The Green Knight is a cinematic retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. David Lowery has the most gorgeously shot movie of the year on his hands. It’s a captivating fantasy adventure that beautifully captures a 14th-century story.

The Green Knight is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

5. ‘Drive My Car’

'Drive My Car' Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yûsuke Kafuku and Tôko Miura as Misaki Watari sitting in the car driving
L-R: Hidetoshi Nishijima as Yûsuke Kafuku and Tôko Miura as Misaki Watari | Janus Films

Drive My Car is Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s superior film over Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. It tells the story of a widowed actor and director whose life takes a turn after he’s forced to allow a 20-year-old chauffeur to drive him around. Hamaguchi’s screenplay is perhaps the best of the year. Drive My Car is long but well worth the time investment.

Drive My Car is currently playing in limited theaters.

4. ‘Titane’

'Titane' Agathe Rousselle as Alexia, Adrien laying on top of a car
Agathe Rousselle as Alexia, Adrien | Carole Bethuel/Neon

Titane is the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or winner this year. It follows a killer who assumes the identity of a long-lost boy and seeks out his father as a place to hide from the police. Titane is disturbing, strange, and is very much arthouse filmmaking. But, it’s a masterful piece of cinema, if you’re willing to go there.

Titane is available for rent or purchase through digital retailers, such as Amazon, Vudu, and Apple TV.

3. ‘Red Rocket’

'Red Rocket' Simon Rex as Mikey Saber riding a bike outside
Simon Rex as Mikey Saber | A24

Red Rocket is Sean Baker’s best film yet. The story chronicles a washed-up porn star who returns to his small Texas hometown. Simon Rex shocked the industry with a phenomenal and raw performance. Red Rocket reveals the underbelly of America in a way that’s both funny and disturbing.

Red Rocket is currently playing in limited theaters.

2. ‘The Worst Person in the World

'The Worst Person in the World' Renate Reinsve as Julie running down the street
Renate Reinsve as Julie | Neon

The Worst Person in the World explores four years in the life of a woman seeking her place in the world. It’s comical, dramatically intense, and truly unforgettable. Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, and Herbert Nordrum are exceptional. This is one of the year’s absolute must-see films.

The Worst Person in the World will hit theaters on Feb. 4.

1. ‘Flee’

'Flee' Amin scratching the back of his head
Amin | Neon

Flee transcends the meaning of a documentary. It’s an animated film that tells the story of Amin, a gay man on the verge of marriage. He’s ready to tell his story and how it affects his present and future. Flee is a true masterstroke and the best film of 2021.

Flee is currently playing in limited theaters.

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