The 3 Best Movies of Late 2021

When it comes to major film releases, 2021 will go down in history as one of the weirdest years on record.

The first part of the year was a lot like 2020, when nearly all big-budget films were held back from releases until movie theaters could reopen. That slowly started happening in late spring 2021 — even as theaters opened their doors again, people only gradually began returning to them.

Yet 2021 ultimately serves as a validation of the resilience of the movie theater industry. A few successful summer movies from blockbuster franchises, like Marvel’s “Black Widow” and “F9: The Fast Saga,” showed that Covid-19 hadn’t completely killed the thirst to see movies on the big screen, but both films still underperformed compared to pre-pandemic expectations.

By the time fall 2021 came around, it was clear that the ongoing pandemic, with its complex mix of vaccine rollouts, mask mandates and social distancing, couldn’t stop the blockbuster film. Marvel’s second big release of the year, “Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings,” crushed the box office, bringing in $224 million so far, making it the highest-grossing film of the year.

The superhero genre continued to show its dominance with the release of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which holds the number two spot right behind “Shang-Chi” with $212 million in gross.

The year also saw many hybrid releases of films, meaning the films were released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming services (like “Black Widow”) or were allowed for streaming after a short stint only in theaters (like “Dune”).

It’s clear that streaming is going to be a part of how we consume media for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it will supplant movie theaters, said Canadian filmmaker and entrepreneur Bardya Ziaian.

Obviously streaming isn’t going to go anywhere, but movie theaters have survived the rise of television, home entertainment systems, online piracy, streaming services and now a global pandemic, Bardya Ziaian said. It’s been a cornerstone of popular culture for a hundred years — it’s not going anywhere, he added.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the best movies of 2021, most of which you should still be able to find in your local cinemas.

“The Power of the Dog” – A Slow Burn Drama

Benedict Cumberbatch has been generating serious Oscar buzz with his blistering performance of a rancher who knows that his best days are likely behind him. It’s the first film in 10 years from director Jane Campion, who is best known for “The Piano,” which was nominated for Best Picture in 1993 and won several acting awards. The film is an exploration of masculinity, especially of the toxic variety, and feels profoundly relevant.

“Encanto” – Animation for The Whole Family

Even after Disney bought Pixar in 2006, the upstart animation studio continued to make films that felt lightyears ahead of the latest offerings from Walt Disney Animated Studios. But by listening to criticism of its princess obsession and diversifying its characters and stories, the granddaddy of animation studios made a major cultural comeback with “Moana,” and it continues that trend with the gorgeous and heartfelt “Encanto,” which does for Latino culture what “Moana” did for Hawaii and other Pacific islanders.

“Eternals” – A Superhero Movie Of A Different Kind

With nearly two dozen films under their belt, Marvel Studios seemed to recognize that it needed to diversify its storytelling to stay fresh and keep fans coming back for more. The studio’s strategy for this has been tapping unusual and up-and-coming directors to bring their take on the superhero genre. This has resulted in some of the studio’s best films, like Taika Waititi directing “Thor: Ragnarok” and Ryan Coogler tackling “Black Panther.” By tapping Chloe Zhao for “Eternals,” the studio pinned its hopes on a director best known for low-key dramas like “Nomadland.” The result is something extraordinary and well worth your time — even if you don’t consider yourself a Marvel fan.