From 'Raya and the Last Dragon' to 'Minari,' these are the best films of the year.
Because studios have forgone traditional theater releases for a large number of movies this past year, many of 2021’s best films with blockbuster talent, incredible cinematography and breathtaking performances have gone under the radar. That’s why we put together this list to clue you in on the best releases and exactly which streaming platform you can use to rent, purchase or stream them.
These critically acclaimed movies are available through streaming services like Paramount+, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, or available for purchase through Disney+ and Amazon. Each one has been selected based on award nominations, critical reception or overwhelming audience approval.
Our selection for the best streaming movies of the year features dynamite actors such as Will Smith, Frances McDormand, Dev Patel, Carey Mulligan, Daniel Kaluuya, Andra Day, Rosamund Pike, Leslie Odom Jr., Kristen Wiig, Idris Elba and more. So sit back, scroll down and pick your next surefire winner for movie night.
The Power of the Dog
From Jane Campion, director of The Piano, comes one of the frontrunners for Best Picture. The Power of the Dog tells the story of a beguiling rancher who torments his brother's new wife and son. When he seems to soften to them, it's unclear whether he is opening up to love, or plotting further menace.
Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons star in this film that received seven Golden Globe nominations. Subscribers can stream it on Netflix.
Will Smith stars as Venus and Serena William's father in this biopic, whose dedication and coaching led them to being two of the greatest athletes of all time. The film has a 98% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, thanks in part to Smith's heralded performance.
Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney and Jon Bernthal also star. You can view the movie with a subscription to HBO Max.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run
Paramount+ debuted this march, and it brought the latest SpongeBob feature film. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run follows SpongeBob and Patrick as they meet, and subsequently have to rescue, Gary the Snail.
The animated movie has an all-star cast that includes Awkwafina, Snoop Dogg, Tiffany Haddish, Keanu Reeves and Danny Trejo. Rotten Tomatoes has certified the film "Fresh" and states it is “a wondrously wacky visit to Bikini Bottom that retains the charm of the original series.”
ET and Paramount+ are both subsidiaries of ViacomCBS.
The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall is a Western with a steller cast that includes Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King and Lakeith Stanfield. The bold and stylized film follows an outlaw who reunites their gang after their biggest rival is released from prison.
The Netflix film holds a 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Raya and The Last Dragon
Raya and The Last Dragon is the a hit Disney animated film and can be viewed with a subscription to Disney+. It’s about a lone warrior teaming up with the last dragon to save the world of Kumandra from the evil Druun.
The gorgeously animated original adventure stars Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina and currently holds a 94% Tomatometer score and a 97% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Do you like detective thrillers? The Dry is based on the best-selling page-turner of the same name by Jane Harper.
Eric Bana stars as Federal Police agent Aaron Falk as he visits the farming town in Australia he grew up in. Originally there for the funeral of his childhood friend, who was believed to have killed his family and himself under the pressure of extreme drought, Falk begins to suspect there is much more at play than the town is leading on. The critically-acclaimed film became one of the highest-grossing Australian movies of all time. It's available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
This year's highest-rated family animated movie is The Mitchells vs. the Machines. It follows a dysfunctional family that must unite to save the world when a robot uprising disrupts their vacation.
Produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), the adventure has been lauded for its gorgeous animation, whacky sense of humor and inclusion of LGBT themes. It holds a exceptional 98% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes and can be viewed on Netflix.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Judas and the Black Messiah tells the intense true story of the FBI’s targeting of young civil rights leader and Black Panther member Fred Hampton. It follows petty criminal Bill O’Neal as he infiltrates the Black Panther party for the FBI in exchange for his freedom.
Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield and Dominique Fishback have received critical acclaim for their strong performances. Fishback was nominated for the BAFTA award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor at this year's Academy Awards, Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards for his role as Hampton. Subscribe to HBO Max if you haven't already to stream this movie.
The Green Knight
A24 is one of the most exciting studios of the last five years, during which time they produced hits such as Hereditary, Lady Bird, Moonlight, Uncut Gems and Midsommar. Their newest venture is the Dev Patel-led medieval fantasy horror film The Green Knight.
The film follows Gawain, nephew of King Arthur, as he goes on an adventure to test his courage and defeat the Green Knight. Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury and Sean Harris also star in this beautifully filmed take on classic literature. It's available to rent using Amazon Prime Video.
A Quiet Place Part II
John Krasinski returns to direct his wife Emily Blunt in this horror sequel that had a delayed release due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film follows the Abbott family as they search for other humans in a world filled with blind aliens with a heightened sense of hearing. Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join the main cast. You can stream it now on Paramount+.
ET and Paramount+ are both subsidiaries of ViacomCBS.
Minari is the heartfelt story of a South Korean family immigrating and adjusting to rural America in the 1980s. It’s produced by A24 and stars Steven Yeun. The film opened to rave reviews, earning a 98% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
It also received numerous awards including the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival and the Best Foreign Language Film Award at this year’s Golden Globes. For his role, Yeun became the first Asian to be nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. His co-star, Yuh-Jung Youn, went on to win for best actress in a supporting role. Rent it now on Amazon Prime Video!
If you like laugh-out-loud raunchy teen comedies like Superbad or Booksmart, you should check out Plan B. The Natalie Morales-directed Hulu original about a well-to-do high school student and her best friend trying to find a Plan B pill in 24 hours in South Dakota currently holds a 96% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
No Sudden Move
No Sudden Move is the latest film crime film by master of the genre Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Ocean's Eleven, Logan Lucky). This caper film set in 1954 Detroit about a supposed small-time job gone horribly wrong has one of the best casts of 2021. It stars Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox, Brendan Fraser, Ray Liotta and Kieran Culkin! The HBO Max exclusive film currently holds a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Disney Pixer's latest animated film is Luca, the story of two sea monster boys who transform into humans to explore the Italian Riviera in the 1950s. A short venture into the human world quickly turns into the summer they'll never forget. The feel-good adventure film currently holds a 91% score on Rotten Tomatoes and is available to all Disney+ subscribers.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
The same summer Woodstock happened, there was the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, a six week celebration of Black music, culture and pride that featured Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and Nina Simone.
Director Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson worked to restore previously unseen footage from the massive event. The performances are mixed in with revealing interviews from performers and attendees.
The documentary won the Grand Jury and Audience Award for Best Documentary at Sundance. It's free to view for anyone that subscribes to Hulu.
Every now and then an independent film from a debut director comes out and makes waves in the horror community. This year that film is Censor. The stylistic and visceral British horror-thriller follows a film censor whose world is inverted when she begins working on a film that is eerily in sync with the disappearance of her sister. You can rent this unforgettable film on Amazon Prime Video.
Nomadland stars three-time Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand as a woman who leaves her life to travel around the American West. It’s a slow-burn character study that beautifully captures the often forgotten people of America. Nomadland won best picture at the Academy Awards. Its director, Chloé Zhao, became the first Asian woman to win a Academy Award for Best Director. The film is available to all Hulu subscribers.
Who could have guessed one of the years most critically acclaimed films would be a Nicolas Cage vehicle about man trying to rescue his truffle-hunting pig? Thanks to skillful direction by newcomer Michael Sarnoski and a return to Oscar form by Nic Cage, that's the case in 2021. Pig currently boasts an impressive 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes. You can rent it now on Amazon Prime Video.
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a biopic about jazz singer Billie Holiday as she is targeted by the Federal Department of Narcotics to bring racial overtones to the war on drugs. For her performance as Holiday, Andra Day won a historic Best Actress Motion Picture -- Drama at the 78th Golden Globes.
The Paper Tigers
The Paper Tigers is a hidden gem on Netflix that currently holds a 98% critics approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It follows three childhood martial artists prodigies who are now typical, middle-aged men. But when they suspect their old sensei was murdered, they reunite to avenge his death. Martial arts and comedy fans alike will love this movie.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is a comedy written by the two women who brought you Bridesmaids. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo star as two Midwestern best friends who go on vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida and are soon caught up in a sinister plot. The movie is bright, silly and ridiculously funny at every twist and turn and is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. You can watch the film now on Hulu.
I Care A Lot
Another Netflix film, I Care A Lot is a black comedy starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González and Dianne West. It is about a court-appointed guardian who takes advantage of elderly people only to get unwittingly involved with a powerful gangster. Rotten Tomatoes marks the film as Certified Fresh.
This documentary takes a harrowing look into the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as it devastates the people and health workers of Wuhan, China. The fly-on-the-wall type look at the biggest health crisis in modern history currently holds a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. You can stream it now on Paramount+.
ET and Paramount+ are both subsidiaries of ViacomCBS.